Friday 21 October 2016

Irish Water and other utilities will be able to dip into wages and dole

Alan Kelly
Alan Kelly
Joan Burton

UTILITY companies and small businesses will be entitled to seek attachment orders against the wages and welfare payments of customers who owe them money under the Government's sweeping new debt proposals.

The measures, which were agreed by Cabinet last night, are aimed at ensuring nobody is sent to prison over the failure to settle a personal debt.

Instead, creditors will be given the option of seeking redress through the form of attachment orders against wages and welfare payments. Courts will be given the powers to deduct outstanding sums where previously they would have handed down a prison sentence.

The measures could be availed of by businesses and public utilities who are chasing customers over personal debt such as credit card, electricity and gas bills.

READ MORE: Over €100k worth of damage caused to water contractor's vehicles

But it will not apply to secured debt, meaning banks will be prevented from using these measures as a means of pursuing customers in mortgage arrears.

The Government's measures, which are being spearheaded by the Departments of Justice and Environment, will also apply to householders who fail to pay their water charges.

Joan Burton

Irish Water, along with other public utilities, will be allowed apply for attachment orders in cases where customers refuse to engage.

The Government insists a differentiation will be made between those who 'can't pay' and those who 'won't pay'.

Those who can't pay will be dealt with by Irish Water on a case-by-case basis and will be given a series of payment plan options. These could include householders paying their bills on a monthly basis.

But those who won't pay, including anti-water charge protesters, face having the fees deducted from their dole or wages.

The water plans dealing with non payment will also include thresholds in order to ensure those on lower social welfare payments are not pushed into poverty.

Sources close to Joan Burton described these as "poverty protections", saying there is an absolute desire to ensure families who can't pay are at the forefront of considerations.

Underpinning the Coalition's strategy is the introduction of a "deterrent" for people considering refusing making payments to Irish Water.

While campaigners have claimed the measures will result in thousands of people being hauled before the courts, Government sources insist the prospect of being landed with attachment orders will push many individuals into settling up their bills.

"The whole idea of going to jail for a few hours is now gone. Attachment orders will ensure the money is paid while damaging an individual's credit rating for the future," said a senior Government source.

Measures being introduced by Environment Minister Alan Kelly will also prevent house- holders who refuse to pay their bills from selling their homes.

If a property is sold, the sale will still go through but the proceeds won't be given to the seller until the water bill is paid.

Mr Kelly has also pledged to ensure landlords aren't unfairly targeted by ensuring the liability follows tenants who refuse to pay their bills. If water bills are not paid at the end of the tenancy, they will be deducted from deposits. This will place an obligation on the landlord to effectively act as a debt collector on behalf of Irish Water.

But crucially, the financial liability will not be shifted onto the landlord.

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