40,000 sign up for water bills hours before deadline
A LAST-minute rush of registrations by householders was received by Irish Water in advance of last night's deadline.
More than 40,000 signed up throughout yesterday, bringing the total to date to 888,750 - far short of the 1.5 million customer base and representing a registration rate just shy of 60pc.
A total of 236,250 households that have registered so far will not officially be customers because they have their own water supply and treatment facility.
It also emerged that no penalty will be imposed on householders who did not register in time.
However, some water bills might be too high as a standard fee of €260 will apply to those who did not confirm their details by the deadline.
Penalties will kick in for those who have not paid by summer 2016, 15 months after the first bills arrive in April.
There will be a particular focus by Irish Water on rented accommodation in the coming weeks because of the low level of registrations by tenants.
Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald said the Government had a deadline yesterday "that apparently wasn't really a deadline".
"Irrespective of when the deadline is, hundreds of thousands of people won't register and many, many more won't pay because they are simply not in a position to pay," she said.
Irish Water said 35,000 households had sent back their application packs either unopened or spoiled.
In two instances, the packages were used as toilet paper before being returned.
Environment Minister Alan Kelly confirmed yesterday that householders "have not missed the boat".
He insisted the deadline was an administrative date and "not a line in the sand".
People can still register, and if they receive bills that are not reflective of their circumstances, in the second round of bills they will get a rebate.
For those who do not register and who refuse to pay their bills, legislation will be brought in later on this year.
However, the sanctions for non-compliance have not yet been revealed.
"We are going to have to work with landlords," said Minister Kelly.
"We are going to have to work with local authorities and use whatever processes we can to ensure that everyone contributes to society and everyone contributes to the requirement to upgrade the water supply in this country."
There will be a date in the summer by which householders will have to apply to the Department of Social Protection for the €100 water conservation grant.
Irish Water managing director John Tierney said the company is in the final stages of preparing for billing to the households on the public water network.
"This is an enormous challenge and nothing of this scale has previously been undertaken," Mr Tierney said.
Around €420m will be spent on improving water services this year.