As part of the initial bailout in December 2010, the Government agreed to introduce charges for water services by 2012/20131 but this was postponed until October 2014 with payment to begin in 2015. Government intends to impose household water charges for drinking water as well as waste water services. While there is no right under the Covenant to free drinking water or sanitation for everyone, water must be adequate, accessible and affordable to all;2 in relation to water charges, the State must include ‘appropriate pricing policies such as free or low-cost water’ which will not impact disproportionately on poorer people.3 In July 2014, the Commission for Energy Regulation announced that water charges for a person living alone would come to €176 or to €278 for two people and allowances will be made for children under 18 so that the average bill for households with children will not exceed €240.4 There are concerns about whether the allowances for people with medical needs will be adequate but a list of exempt conditions will not be drawn up before water charges come into force.5 The extra charge may put additional financial pressure on low income households.6 The Commission also recommended that customers who receive water which is unfit for human consumption would still be required to pay 50 per cent of the waste services portion of the bill for three months but there would be a complete exemption if the problem was not rectified within that timeframe.7 However, in some areas, up to 20,000 residents have had to boil tap water in their area over a number of years and while Irish Water has promised to rectify this situation, changes are not due to be completed until the end of 2015.8
FLAC urges the Committee to recommend that the State:
Ensure alleviation measures are properly targeted at people with low incomes and provide safe drinking water without charge for all those affected by contaminated water supplies.
1 Government of Ireland (2010) Letter of Intent, Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies, and Technical Memorandum of Understanding, Dublin: Government of Ireland, p.30.
2 UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), General Comment No. 15: The Right to Water (Arts. 11 and 12 of the Covenant), 20 January 2003, E/C.12/2002/11.
3 Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Habitat & the World Health Organisation (2010) The Right to Water: Factsheet No. 35, Geneva: United Nations, p.12.
4 Commission for Energy Regulation (2014) Response Paper on Domestic Water Tariff Principles and Proposals, Dublin: Commission for Energy Regulation, p.3.
5 P. Melia & F. Sheahan, ‘Irish Water won’t seek proof of illness when capping bills’, Irish Independent, 18 September 2014.
6 Society of St Vincent de Paul, ‘Water proposals have serious implications for low-income households as alleviation measures not targeted’ [press release], 31 July 2014.
7 Commission for Energy Regulation (2014) Response Paper on Domestic Water Tariff Principles and Proposals, Dublin: Commission for Energy Regulation, p.3.
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