I am glad to hear it. I am fascinated with amendment No. 21, which provides that a property owner must register the property if he or she is getting a service from Irish Water. What this means in practice is that if the property is the owner's principal private dwelling, for some inexplicable reason the he or she will have to register with a company with whom he or she has no commercial connection if he or she wants to get the grant. On the one hand, the Minister says this will be done de facto but, on the other, he is not including it in the legislation. There must be some reason why he is saying people kind of have to register their principal private residence if they want to get the lollipop from the Government given that the legislation does not require them to register. This is indicative of the muddled thinking behind the legislation.
It has become obvious over the last two days that a considerable number of ordinary decent people, particularly those on low incomes, will get caught in the middle of the stand off between the Minister and the Independent Deputies who are advising people not to pay. These two macho groups are using the people with whom I work on a daily basis as pawns in a power game. The Minister arbitrarily declared that if people do not register by 30 June they will not get the €100 grant. On Sunday night a lady on modest means informed me that she had not registered with Irish Water.
She was on a group water scheme and had a septic tank but because she had not registered with an agency she need not have any connection with, the Minister will take €100 out of that widow's pocket. Her daughter lives nearby and thankfully I managed to contact her also. I told her that since she has a well and a septic tank, she does not have to pay. She still has to register, however, otherwise there will be another €100 out of her pocket. Due to all this conflicting information, there are hundreds of thousands of people in this situation around the country. Given the Government's attitude in setting an arbitrary deadline, they will miss out on the grant. They set this ridiculous condition that a person must register even if they get nothing from Uisce Éireann.
The other situation concerns people who have been told not to pay and tough it out. The Minister is saying that if a person has not registered by 30 June they will be €100 down. That applies to the most vulnerable people in our society who have been listening to the propaganda not to register. The State is a patient operator and does not mind, as long as it knows the money will roll in the longer term.
According to the legislation, a person who has not paid bills for water and sewerage services for two years, will have passed the magic €500 threshold. They will be brought to court as a result and the fines can be attached to their income. The Deputies behind me may say that the State cannot bring everybody to court. However, my experience of the more vulnerable people in my constituency is that when legal letters start flying, they get worried. They have never been to court in their lives and do not want to go there. In addition, the court may be 40 or 50 miles away, so it represents a big cost for them to attend. They will wind up paying nearly €600 and will have lost €200 in grants. Most people will not escape the payment because they will not want to attend court.
The same applies to those who get caught for the €200 household charge. They will have to pay an extra €100 whereas those who paid €100 in the beginning got away with it. I have yet to meet any of those who advised the public not to pay water charges, who are willing to put their hand in their pocket and pay for them. I have not seen that happen. The Minister's clever pincer movement catches people in a bind that they think they cannot get out of. Ordinary citizens are more likely to pay, rather than go beyond a certain point. The people who tell them not to pay, do not put their hands deep in their pockets to make up the difference.
The Government is laying down rules that will penalise those who have not registered by the end of June. In addition, there is a clever pincer movement on top of that to make sure the Minister gets his money one way or the other. I know the syndrome that the Minister is depending on. If, through all of these machinations, the Minister gets the compliance rate up to 80% or 85%, he is aware that no matter how reluctantly people paid, human nature being what it is, they will say, "Well, if I had to pay, I am damned if a whole lot of other people are going to get away without paying". Therefore, even those who have protested against water charges, once they sign up and pay, many of them will change sides and say, "If I had to pay, why should everybody not pay".
The meanest element of the pincer movement is the significant cut that An Tánaiste has made to the funding for exceptional discretionary payments for those who cannot pay water charges. A community welfare officer explained to me that the social welfare system makes payments on a rote basis. There is a series of rules, including means testing and payment of social insurance contributions. However, a person's actual circumstances are not taken into account in terms of how poor they are or how many bills they have. The means test does not count those things.
In the past, a community welfare officer was able to make payments on a discretionary basis, which was hugely important. They were able to make a case based on need, taking everything into account outside the terms of fixed schemes that are always quite rigid. In that way, they were able to help people in poverty and financial distress in a way that the more formalised part of social welfare cannot do.
In many years of dealing with constituents, I have noticed that for one reason or another, two people with the same income and household profile, can find themselves in dramatically different circumstances. I have dealt with people on low incomes but who have huge savings because they are careful. Other people cannot handle money and are eternally in financial distress. That is part of the human condition.
One of the biggest percentage cuts in the Tánaiste's budget has been made to discretionary payments by community welfare officers. We are talking about making payments on a staged basis, but when a person has no money and their income does not meet their outgoings, it makes no difference whether they are asked to pay today or tomorrow.
When I was running the co-op, somebody came in to buy something. I asked them if they wanted to pay now or put it on the account. They said if they could not pay there and then it would be unlikely they would be able to pay, so they paid. This idea of putting it on the never-never for those who are stuck for cash is utterly meaningless. That is why the Bill does not hang together.
As a result of the way this has been handled, the least well-off will be the hardest hit. The Minister knows that it is in the housing estates which ironically are the places where €100 would most come in handy that the lowest number of households will gain from the largesse of the Department of Social Protection. It would be fine if the Government was going to write off the obligation, but it is going to wait in the long grass for two years and leave a sword of Damocles hanging over these people until it comes after them for the money. When it does this, I do not see any group that could make up the money for the people caught up in this macho war between the two warring sides.
I ask the Minister to stop and rethink, to reflect on who is becoming the ham in the sandwich and recognise that what is happening will hurt a lot of people a few years down the road.