Friday 28 October 2016

Government plan to take water charge from wages or social welfare

Alan Kelly
Alan Kelly

THE Government is to substantially remove the threat of jail over those who refuse to pay their water charges, the Herald can confirm.

Householders who do not their pay their bills will instead have attachment orders placed on their wages or social welfare payments under proposals due to be discussed at Cabinet today.

Irish Water bills began landing on doormats last month with the utility charging households on a quarterly basis.

The joint proposals between the Department of the Environment and the Department of Justice are expected to be discussed at Cabinet emphasise the difference between those who “can’t pay” and those who “won’t pay”.

The water plans include thresholds in order to ensure those on lower social welfare payments are not pushed into poverty.

Government sources described these as “poverty protections”, saying there is an absolute desire to ensure families who can’t pay are at the forefront of considerations.

Such families will be invited to enter into a so-called “payment plans” with Irish Water and will be given the option to pay their bills on a monthly or bi-monthly basis.

However, those who won’t pay will face having the bills deducted from their incomes.

“We can’t sustain a situation whereby one person pays their bills but their neighbours get away with it,” said a government strategist.

While sources say the involvement of the courts cannot be ruled out down the line, this approach will only apply to the “absolute minority of cases”.

The proposals surrounding Irish Water coincide with overall plans to deal with

debt collection being spearheaded by the Department of Justice.

It is felt that the current laws dealing with smaller debts need to be reformed.

“The way in which small debts are dealt with is not acceptable.

“There is too much bureaucracy involved,” said a source.

A source in the Department of the Environment confirmed that the removal of the threat of jail is central to the plans due to be unveiled shortly.

Ministers are keen to avoid a flurry of court appearances over the refusal to pay water charges, particularly with a general election looming.

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