Friday, October 3, 2014

In the News: Irish Water

As of October 1, 2014, the citizens (and expat residents) of Ireland will be paying for water and sewer services for the first time- and many are not happy about it.

Our main source of Irish news and opinion is the daily morning radio show NewsTalk Breakfast featuring one younger and one older host reading the headlines and sprinkling in their own addendums and interjections.

When it was first announced that the country had set up a corporation to send them a water bill, there were many questions and few answers.

"So water used to be funded by my already very high taxes. If you charge me separately for water now, will I get a rebate on my taxes?"

"Buildings and plumbing weren't designed with water meters in mind, how will we be billed?"

"What about well water or septic tanks?"

"Very important: How much will it cost?"

These questions and many more hit the airwaves and the internet. As the government answered the first wave of questions, it led to many, many more.

A glass of water
Water Wars

"No, you won't be getting a refund on your taxes, are you crazy?"

"Buildings without water meters (almost every building in the country) will be billed on an average use per resident, no matter how much the building actually uses. We just hope that thousands of households don't simply turn on their taps forever in protest."

"We'll umm... have to think about the well water and septic tank thing. Check back closer to the billing start date. Same on the cost."

What? They didn't know how much to charge or how to handle the tricky exceptions like septic tanks? Many people in Ireland already have low opinions of politicians, banks, and corporations. One would think that the good people on Kildare Street would have had the FULL plan ready to roll out a year ago when the water charge was first announced.

Fast forward to much more recently...

Water registration packets began arriving in mailboxes all over the country. Every household was to register with their names, the kind of water service they have, and the PPS numbers of all residents in the household. That last part caused another stink in the media.

In Ireland, PPS numbers are similar to a US Social Security Number. It is your official identity used in reporting taxes and receiving government benefits. Irish Water, the corporation created to handle the water bills, needs these to verify the residents in a home- but the fine print is a bit scary.

Apparently, by filling out the registration, residents agree to let Irish Water use their personal information-including their PPS number- in almost any way they see fit, including selling of said information to third parties. Yikes.

AND... As the packet arrived, there was still no solid answer to that all-important question. "How much will this thing cost?"

Estimates had been released, but never any clear or definitive numbers. People needed to know.

Just one day before the first-ever billing period, the water service finally announced the official billing rate and charges plan. That's right, one day before the billing period, the public was finally given the answer to their questions about well water, second homes, septic tanks, commercial properties, landlord/tenant status, and the final cost for meterless buildings.

They were nice enough to waive charging homes for water while they are under boil orders and their water is undrinkable. Thank heaven for small favors.

So the way it will work is summarized thus:

  • Starting Oct. 1, all households and commercial buildings will be billed for water services.
  • If your residence has no water meter (that's almost every residence in Ireland), you will be charged an average per resident (278 Euro/year for 2 adults) regardless of water usage. 
  • If your residence has a meter, you will pay the average per resident upfront and receive a rebate at the end of the year if you kept usage under the cap.
  • You're welcome.

I get the feeling from the reaction in the media that the people here wouldn't specifically mind paying for a service like water. People here understand better than Americans that nothing in life is free, and they are mostly willing to pay their fair share. The problems people seem to have (and I largely agree) are with the disorganized manner in which the government handles such a huge change.

I used to wonder why people here had so little trust and faith in their elected leaders at large. I think I've just learned why.

If you are an Irish resident, I'd love to hear what you think in the comments section below. I tried to be fair about my observations here, but my experience is limited- I didn't live here through the boom and bust of the last few decades. It would be great for me (and American readers) to see your thoughts.

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