Thursday, 24 September 2020

Questions (123)

Martin Browne

Question:

123. Deputy Martin Browne asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he will request Irish Water to give an exemption from water charges to community councils and voluntary groups which provide meals on wheels services and other services for those in need; if his attention has been drawn to organisations that have been billed for thousands of euro in the space of a few months; if his attention has been further drawn to the difficulties such organisations have in paying charges due to low income and the recent fall in funds due to Covid-19 restrictions; if his attention has been further drawn to the high water charges they are faced with regularly; his views on the way in which such organisations have been heroes of the Covid-19 pandemic; his views on recognising their efforts by providing such exemptions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26200/20]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

Since 1 January 2014, Irish Water has statutory responsibility for all aspects of water services planning and delivery. Irish Water charging policy is also subject to approval by the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU).

In this regard, my Department is maintaining close contact with Irish Water in relation to its response to the COVID-19 Emergency, while also liaising with the CRU. Irish Water has acknowledged the challenges faced by their non-domestic customer base, including community councils and voluntary groups and it will readily engage with customers who may be experiencing temporary cash flow or trading difficulties. Customers facing such circumstances should contact Irish Water, via its call centre (1850 778 778), at an early date to access the available supports.

Responsibility for the independent economic regulation of the water sector is assigned to the CRU. Under the Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013 Irish Water is required to collect charges, where relevant, from its customers in accordance with a water charges plan approved by the CRU. The CRU, as regulator, is independent in this matter and has come to its own assessment of the appropriate tariff and charging arrangements that shall apply to non-domestic customers.

From 2001, national water pricing policy had required local authorities to recover the costs of providing water services from all non-domestic users of these services. This policy provided for charges based on actual metered consumption, consistent with the requirements of the Water Framework Directive. All non-domestic customers were transferred to Irish Water under their existing charging arrangements with no changes, as instructed by the CRU.

I understand that the existing charging arrangements are to remain in place pending the introduction of Irish Water's new non-domestic tariff framework. This Framework was determined by the CRU in 2019, informed by a multi-stage public consultation process. Implementation of the revised tariff arrangements was planned for 1 May 2020, but was subsequently deferred arising from the onset of Covid-19. This decision has been taken by Irish Water with the support of the CRU and my Department and is being kept under review in light of emerging developments in relation to COVID-19.

Question No. 124 answered with Question No. 121.