Irish Water has confirmed that rural householders are continuing to be hit with water charges if they are supplied by Group Water Schemes (GWSs) which have not yet been taken in charge by the water utility. This is despite the fact that water charges have been suspended for households on the public supply network.
Historically, households served by GWSs have had to pay for water supplies even when householders on the public network have been given free water and sewage services.
Domestic water charges were first abolished nationally in 1977, only to be reintroduced by some local authorities following legislation in 1983.
Domestic water charges were then prohibited by legislation in 1997, however only those on public supplies benefited from this and all other households had to either provide their own supply through paying for a well or by being part of a GWS which provided water to unserviced rural areas.
Irish Water is continuing to bill GWSs not taken in charge for water supply despite the fact that there is suspension of charges in place for households on the public supply.
Leitrim County Council Cathaoirleach, Cllr Mary Bohan said that people on private GWSs have already been significantly impacted by charges when “no one else (historically) in the country was having to pay”.
Those on GWSs already have to pay for new connections with costs ranging from €800 up to several thousand, pointed out Cllr Bohan.
On top of this, those in private GWSs have always had to pay annual water charges of between €70 and in some cases, in excess of €300 a year for water supply.
There is also the additional cost for homes which aren't on the public sewage network with annual servicing charges coming in at around €120-€150 for the newer septic systems. Costs not presently borne by those on the public network.
Irish Water treating GWS's as businesses
The Leitrim Observer contacted Irish Water for clarification on the present state of play on charges billed to group water schemes not taken in charge.
The utility company issued a statement which confirmed GWSs that have bulk purchase agreements with Irish Water - i.e. have not been taken in charge - are classified as business customers.
“In Leitrim, Irish Water supplies bulk water to these schemes with a generous free allowance for domestic customers based on the number of domestic customers serviced by the scheme,” said the statement.
“Most domestic customers use considerably less than the allowance (except where there are leakage issues). However, as the schemes are privately run, how the scheme administrators allocate billing between domestic and non-domestic users is a matter for themselves.”
Water charges on the double
Those on GWSs not controlled by Irish Water are understandably upset by the Expert Water Commission's recommendation that domestic water and waste water services should be funded almost entirely from general taxation.
The proposal was put forward as a way to address ongoing opposition on the imposition of universal water charges.
On Tuesday the special Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services held its first meeting in a bid to settle the question of water charges once and for all.
Leitrim County Council Cathaoirleach, Cllr Mary Bohan said that if water charges were abolished and replaced with payments recouped through taxation then people on private group water schemes would be facing the reality of “paying on the double”.
Farming organisations have also expressed their concern over the proposals with ICSA Rural Development Chairperson, Seamus Sherlock, stating it is unconscionable that rural dwellers should be expected to pay twice for their water while others pay nothing.
“It is apparent at this point that no government will directly charge people for water in Dublin, and this raises serious questions about fairness. People in rural Ireland already pay for their water through private pumps and group water schemes.
“With the latest backing down on water charges by the government they are still are expected to contribute to paying towards Dublin’s water supply through taxation.
“I am calling on the government to allocate tax credits to compensate those who are already paying for their water.”