The Water Conservation Grant was the Government’s latest attempt at encouraging Ireland’s rebellious households to register with Irish Water. But was this €100 Grant basic bribery or a creative compromise? We wade through the latest Irish Water controversy and explain how it will affect you and your money.
There was a distinct lack of Irish water falling from the skies last month, as word of the driest June in 40 years was confirmed on Wednesday. However, there was a pitter-patter of new registrations with Irish Water (with a capital ‘W’) during the month, as households signed up to avail of the €100 Water Conservation Grant.
Last Tuesday (June 30th) was the final deadline for Irish households to register with Irish Water and avail of the Grant, which is the Government’s latest attempt at encouraging / incentivising / urging / scaring / bribing (depending on whose side you’re on) the public into signing up.
According to Irish Water, this ‘final deadline’ really was a final deadline. Not like those three other ‘final deadlines’ we got in October, November and February…
What exactly is the Water Conservation Grant?
In November, a number of changes to the country’s much maligned water charging system were introduced under the Water Services Act. The Act replaced a previous offer of a discount to some people on long-term social welfare with a blanket €100 Water Conservation Grant…and this time there was one for everyone in the audience!
Every one of the country’s 1.7million households was eligible for the Grant, even those with private wells and members of group water schemes, who don’t have to pay Irish Water at all.
The first step in getting the €100 on offer was to register with Irish Water before midnight on Tuesday last (June 30th). Those who did this will still have to fill out another application form in a few months to actually get the cash, but more on that later.
What can I get with my Grant money?
The stated purpose of the Conservation Grant is to “promote sustainable use of water and to enhance water conservation in households”. The Government want you to spend your €100 on things like water butts, installing dual flush toilets and fixing leaks (how exciting!) - pretty much anything loosely related to water.
However, there will be nobody keeping tabs on how your cash is spent. You didn’t hear this from us, but there’s nothing to stop you from spending your Grant money on something more fun than de-sludging your septic tank, such as a return flight to Paris, a ticket to see Ed Sheeran or…100 bottles of Ballygowan from your local newsagent
To take the cynic’s view for a moment, the Conservation Grant could be seen as a direct way for the Government to get the Irish Water registration numbers up – cash for your co-operation.
It may even be possible to register and refuse to pay your bills, leaving some people deviously drooling at the prospect of getting a tidy €100 from the Government with the intention of never actually paying a bill.
Has the Grant led to more registrations?
The Grant seems to have caused a steady trickle of new registrations, but probably not the flood of signups that the Government was anticipating. As of last week, there were 1.32 million households registered with Irish Water, which is 70% of the total eligible population.
To make things even more murky, there’s still no publicly-available information on just how many of the registered households have actually coughed up cash. Paul Murphy TD is pressuring Irish Water to release these figures but is being held at arms length for now.
€25m bonanza for private water households
Of the 1.32 million eligible households, a whopping 250,000+ of these have private water access. In essence, this means the Government is offering over €25m in pocket money to households that aren’t connected to the mains – so, some people are actually making money from Irish Water! Although many argue that a private water supply is more expensive to maintain than paying for a mains connection.
I registered before June 30th. Where’s my €100?!
Households that met the June 30th deadline for registering will get their Grant money…eventually. At some time between late August and early October, the Department of Social Protection will reveal details of exactly how it intends on distributing the dosh – updates will be posted on watergrant.ie. The first round of Grant payments, which will be made annually until 2018, is slated for September.
What we know now is that if you want your Grant, you will have to fill out another application form (which will be possible to do online) and provide your bank account details, a few Irish water account numbers and, significantly, your PPS number.
When Irish Water first opened for business, customers were controversially asked to provide their PPS numbers. This was a major point of contention last year and, in November, the Government did away with the requirement and even deleted all PPS numbers it had collected by then. Asking registrants to provide their PPS numbers in order to actually get their €100 may cause a bit of tension down the line.
I haven’t registered and won’t pay! What’s the worst that could happen?
The passing of the June 30th deadline has also corresponded with some changes to potential punishments for those who plan to never pay.
A few months ago, the worst that could’ve happened to registration rebels was a stint in the slammer. But that won’t happen anymore. Neither will water supplies being cut off.
The Civil Debt (Procedures) Bill, published on Tuesday, proposed that unpaid water charges be deducted from wages or social welfare payments. However, this would only happen once the debt has reached €500 and even then, each case must go through a District Court application process.
Late payment fees of €30 for a single-adult household and €60 for other households will also apply for those who haven’t paid a penny in the 12 months following their first bill. This amount will be added for each year of non-payment that follows too.
Even with these late payment charges added to the maximum default charge of €260, the earliest we could see someone in court for refusing to pay water bills is late 2016.
What's on the horizon for Irish Water customers?
It remains to be seen whether or not the Government will try to come up with yet another way of driving a new wave of registrations but June 30th might have been the point of no return. Things will be a bit clearer once Irish Water reveals the number of households who have actually paid their bills, but the Government’s focus appears to be shifting towards exploring ways of wringing water fees out of all eligible households, regardless of whether or not they have registered.
That being said, you can still register with Irish Water now. You probably won’t get your Grant money, but with a Fine Gael TD calling for the Water Conservation Grant to be an ongoing scheme and the Government receiving some fresh heat for rushing another Irish Water Bill through the Oireachtas last night, it might be worth chancing your arm.
Enda Kenny called the water charges “a very small contribution for a very valuable resource”. We’ll soon see if he and his Government have gone to the well once too often in trying to resolve the saga, which continues to steam ahead.