Water charges are imposed by local authorities. Commercial water charges are levied on all businesses and must be paid to the local authority. Domestic water charges were abolished in 1997, but if you are in a group water scheme you may still have to pay a certain amount for your domestic water. Revenue from water charges is used to maintain and improve the water and wastewater systems.
A new public water utility, Irish Water, is being set up for homes connected to a public water supply. A system of water metering will be introduced and the Commission for Energy Regulation will devise a scheme of water charges.
Water charges are payable if water is being supplied for use by business, trade or manufacture. This includes hospitals, sanatoriums, homes for people with mental or physical disabilities, maternity homes, convalescent homes, laboratories, clinics, health centres, schools or clubs. There are two types of commercial water charges. You can either pay a flat rate or your water usage can be monitored using a meter.
A metered account involves a meter being fitted to monitor water usage. Metered accounts are subject to a minimum charge per year as well as a rental charge for the meter itself. The rental charge is usually paid on a quarterly basis. The minimum charge can vary in different local authority areas.
Meters are generally used to monitor the amount of water used by large premises, such as factories and breweries. The meter is installed by the local authority and is read by water inspectors on a quarterly basis. A forthcoming EU directive will make it necessary for all commercial premises to have a meter. This is in keeping with the 'polluter pays principle', which states that you must pay for the waste you create. Local authorities will be required to install water meters in all commercial premises when this directive comes into effect. At the moment, all new premises must make provision for a water meter in their planning application. For more information, contact your local authority directly.
A domestic allowance is available where the water supply is used jointly for domestic and commercial use. The domestic allowance can vary between local authorities. The Department of Environment, Community and Local Government Circular WSP5/06 (pdf) states that the domestic allowance should be 225 cubic metres per year, but local authorities may allocate lower or higher domestic allowances. To apply for this allowance, contact your local authority.
This flat-rate charge is payable to the local authority. The rate is calculated by estimating how much water your business uses. The volume of water will differ, depending on the type of business and the number of employees. For example, a newsagent will be charged less than a hairdresser because it uses less water. There is no minimum charge set down in legislation. Each local authority can set its own rates, which are reviewed every year.
Group water schemes operate in rural areas, outside the scope of urban public mains systems. They can be public or private, depending on whether the water comes from the public mains or a private source. All group schemes are fitted with a water meter so the local authority can monitor the amount of water used. Each house gets a domestic allowance of 225 cubic metres. Domestic users rarely exceed this amount. If they do, the group scheme is charged as a whole, as the meter monitors the water use of the whole scheme. The meter is checked on a quarterly basis and the allowances for domestic users are deducted. The remainder is charged at a set rate per cubic metre. This rate varies from one local authority to another.
Group scheme members are entitled to a subsidy from the local authority. The members of the scheme must meet any additional costs, such as filtration systems and disinfection.
Commercial premises (like farms or other rural businesses) that are members of group schemes are treated differently from private homes. They get a domestic allowance to cover their domestic water usage. In most cases, they have a water meter to monitor the amount used. The standard domestic allowance is then deducted from the total to determine how much water was used by the business. Alternatively, a fixed rate could be agreed and the business owner pays this amount. If the business owner is in a private group scheme, the amount to be paid must be decided by the other members and the trustees. If the owner is in a public scheme, it is the responsibility of the local authority to monitor the water usage and charge the owner accordingly.
As a member of a public group scheme, you get your water from the public mains system. If you are a domestic user, you do not have to pay water charges. Commercial users like farms or businesses have to pay for the water they use in the running of their businesses. Their water use is monitored and the local authority charges them the set commercial rate.
Domestic users have to pay for water if they are in a private group scheme, where water comes from a private source such as a well or lake. Local authorities provide a subsidy for each house in a private group scheme just as they do for public scheme members. However, the subsidy for a private group scheme is higher to reflect the increased costs associated with a private water supply, such as filtration and disinfection costs. Commercial water users who are members of a private scheme can either have a meter fixed to their premises to monitor their water usage or they can agree a fixed rate with other group members.
If you sink your own well, you are not liable for water charges. You are entitled to a grant for the drilling of the well. However, the grant may not cover the full costs of the drilling or any further costs you may run into, for example, filtration. Your water must be tested for pollutants before you can use it.
All commercial premises, unless a personal hardship waiver applies, must pay their water charges. If you do not pay, the local authority can take you to the District Court to recover the charges from you. Alternatively, it can disconnect your water supply. This is rarely done because of implications for health and safety.
Water that is supplied on a fixed-rate basis must be paid for in advance. The charges are broken into 2 equal instalments, due on 1 April and 1 October each year. If the charges are not paid within 2 months, the local authority can take the consumer to court to recover them.
If the charges remain unpaid after 2 months, the local authority can discontinue the water supply to the premises. The cost of disconnection can be awarded to the local authority by a District Court. The cost of reconnection is the responsibility of the user.
Revenue collectors collect water charges on behalf of the local authority. Payments can be made directly to the revenue collector or to the local authority in person, by post, by standing order, bank giro or direct debit.
If you are unable to pay your water charges, you can apply to the local authority for a waiver. Application forms are available from your local authority.
Group water schemes are responsible for monitoring themselves. Members of group schemes who do not pay their share of the maintenance costs must be dealt with by the group and its trustees. The local authority cannot get involved as it has no authority over the scheme. It is up to the members and trustees of group schemes to decide who should pay what and the grounds on which charges can be waived or reduced.
If you are in a private group scheme, you must discuss any difficulties regarding payment with the trustees of the group.
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If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.