I propose to take Questions Nos. 340 and 373 together.
With effect from 1 January 2014, Irish Water is responsible for public water services. The Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013 provides that Irish Water can collect charges from its customers in receipt of water services. The Act also provides that responsibility for the independent economic regulation of the water sector is assigned to the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) and the CER has been given statutory responsibility for protecting the interests of customers. Domestic water charges will commence with effect from 1 October 2014 and Irish Water will issue the first bills to domestic customers from January 2015. The approach to charging will be outlined by Irish Water in a water charges plan to be submitted by it to the CER in line with the provisions of the Act. The CER will be responsible for approving the water charges plan which will set the approaches to charging domestic and non-domestic customers.
An interdepartmental working group has been established to advise the Government on the appropriate method for addressing affordability issues which may arise with the introduction of domestic water charges. This includes the examination of issues arising for those with specific medical conditions, which require high water usage.
The CER will announce its decision on the approved water charges plan in August 2014. In making its decision on the approval or otherwise of the first water charges plan, the CER will take into account the decisions made by Government on the funding model for Irish Water, including the funding available for a free allowance and any proposed affordability measures.
The Government has committed to the provision of a free allowance, above which charging based on usage would apply. The free allowance and the level of funding to be provided by the Government to Irish Water will have a strong bearing on the net charges to be met by households. Consequently, decisions on these matters will provide greater visibility on the expected level of charges in advance of the final determination of all aspects of the water charges plan by the CER. I expect to bring proposals to Government in this regard shortly.