OFFICIALS from four departments are scrutinising a new two-tier water charge regime which could unlock the six-month water crisis which has dogged the Government.
But serious doubts remain about the prospect of final charges being pitched as low as those signalled by Tanaiste Joan Burton last week.
Ms Burton said a family-of-four would pay less than €200 once allowances and supports were taken into account.
Well-placed sources confirmed last night that discussions on a new proposed charge scheme centre on putting in place a two-tier system. A lower charge will apply to single-person homes and people such as widows and lone parents.
A second, higher fixed-charge will apply to homes with two, three or more people. Discussions between officials from the Departments of Finance, Public Expenditure, Environment and Communications also focus on the prospect of fixing the charges until 2017 or 2018.
The most difficult part of the discussions centres on the actual rate to be applied. Ministers attending the weekly cabinet meeting today are thought unlikely to engage in any prolonged discussion of the matter and are expected to leave the senior officials continue their work.
The Ministers from the four departments concerned are due to meet tomorrow morning and consider an updated report on progress.
One government source last night said the suggestion that a single-person household could pay a little as €80 per year appeared "unlikely".
The same doubt was expressed about speculation that larger households would pay as little as €210 per year.
"We need to ensure that Irish Water can borrow under EU rules as a semi-state company without adding to the national debt. If charges are pitched too low that will not happen," the source told the Herald.
The new charge regime is aimed at encouraging people to register with Irish Water, as those who fail to register face a higher fixed rate. At the same time, houses which have meters, and where less than the fixed amount of water is used, will have the opportunity to further reduce their bill.
This move is seen as an effort to incentivise people to accept meters. Officials hope these positive incentives will prove more effective than threats, withdrawn last week, to reduce non-payers' water supply to a trickle. Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said the final package will be approved by the full cabinet allowing full debate.