I propose to take Questions Nos. 525, 552, 555 and 570 together.
The Programme for Government sets out a commitment to the introduction of water charges based on usage above a free allowance. The Government considers that charging based on usage is the fairest way to charge for water and it has, therefore, decided that water meters should be installed in households connected to public water supplies. The Water Services Act 2013 provided for the establishment of Irish Water as an independent subsidiary within the Bord Gáis Éireann Group and assigned the necessary powers to allow Irish Water to undertake the domestic meter installation programme.
Irish Water has confirmed to my Department that each water meter has a low power radio unit fixed to the top which enables it to be read periodically from a passing van. This is what is known as Automatic Meter Reading (AMR). The AMR is dormant until the meter is read when it is activated only for the purpose of taking the meter read. The meters used by Irish Water do not currently employ smart metering technology. However, the meters are capable of being integrated into a smart meter reading system, should that ever be required. Irish Water has procured meters and radio units that comply with all relevant European and international standards designed to protect the health and safety of customers and the public.
Local authorities are in the final stages of a pre-installation survey of households connected to such supplies. The survey is providing information to Irish Water on the properties that can be metered. The intention is that a meter will be installed in any property connected to a public water supply where it is technically feasible to do so. The matter of occupancy of the property will be addressed separately. In advance of the commencement of charges, Irish Water will be engaging with every household to verify customer details.
In designing the technical specification for the Metering Capital Programme, Irish Water has drawn both from international standards and from extensive local experience of the installation of both Grade B and Grade C meter box covers over the last 12 years. Irish Water monitors the installations by its contractors and can require the installation of a Grade B meter box if it is deemed necessary. Irish Water regularly undertakes technical reviews of the metering programme with the aim of making improvements.
Irish Water has recently commissioned a study on possible approaches to metering properties that are not part of the current metering programme, including apartments and properties with shared service connections. This report was recently submitted to my Department and the recommendations of the report are being considered. In particular, the Department is exploring with Irish Water the potential to include a new phase of metering of some 48,000 apartments, which the report suggests can be easily metered as part of a separate procurement process.