I propose to take Question Nos. 170, 180 and 181 together.
The Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013 provides for the transfer of water services functions from the local authorities to Irish Water. The Act provides that Irish Water can collect charges from its customers in receipt of water services provided by it. It also assigns responsibility for the independent economic regulation of Irish Water to the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) .
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.
It is understood that t he CER is commencing its public consultation on the approach to the design of domestic water tariffs for both metered and unmetered properties and the approach it is proposing for non-domestic tariffs. The CER will announce its decision on the approved water charges plan, which will include details of the levels of metered, assessed and standing charges, 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 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.
The Government has given initial consideration to approaches proposed by me, as Minister, and will further consider these matters over the coming weeks.
Under the European Union (Drinking Water) Regulations 2014, a copy of which is available in the Oireachtas library, suppliers of drinking water are required to ensure that the water supplied is wholesome and clean. Water which is wholesome and clean is defined as water which is free from any micro-organisms and parasites and from any substances which in numbers or concentrations constitute a potential danger to human health, and which meets the quality standards specified in the Schedule to the Regulations. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the supervisory authority with responsibility for monitoring Irish Water’s compliance with these regulations. In the event of non-compliance with the quality standards set out in these Regulations, the water supplier will investigate the cause and, in consultation with the EPA and, if a potential risk to human health may exist, the Health Service Executive, ensure that the appropriate remedial action is taken.
The 2013 Act requires the CER to perform its functions in a manner that best serves the interests of the customers of Irish Water. This is similar to the CER’s statutory role in respect of the gas and electricity sectors. I fully expect that the CER will consider compliance with statutory standards by Irish Water in the discharge of its functions.