Non-payers will have water pressure reduced 'to a trickle': Hogan

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has defended the (average) €240 water charge as a water-saving measure.

The latest levy to hit hard-pressed householders will help fix the leaking supply and secure top quality drinking water for future generations, Mr Kenny said.

“The metering itself brings with it an incentive to conserve,” he said. “You can turn off the tap.”

After a Cabinet deal between Fine Gael and Labour, homes will be allowed to use 30,000 litres of water free of charge before being billed.

Official estimates suggest average households in Ireland use 140,000 litres of water a year – based on 2.7 people living in the house.

The Government is also estimating that children use on average 38,000 litres a year.

There will be a further allowance for “normal” water consumption for every child under the age of 18 in a household.

Meters are being installed around the country but even homes that have not been fitted with a gauge will be charged from next January – using estimations based on the number of people living in the house.

The coalition said charges would be capped for those with certain medical conditions who need a lot of water, while a €100allowance will be made available to pensioners, the disabled and carers.

The energy regulator will finalise the water charges in August.

There will be no standing charges although holiday homes and other properties not permanently occupied may be forced to pay a minimum charge.

Water pressure will be cut "to a trickle" for those who don’t pay their bills, Environment Minister Phil Hogan said, and the tax will be fixed for the first year.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said the Government will hike the charges – which he said would hit low and middle income families worst – by 2016.

“This shows how far removed the Government is from hard working families and vulnerable citizens,” he said.

But Mr Kenny insisted it was a necessary conservation measure.

“Water is a precious and scarce enough resource, and we have to conserve it... It is probably the most abused natural resource in the country,” he said.

Mr Kenny said 40% of water was leaking away – at a cost of 1.2 billion euro - because of holes in pipes.

He added that this was the last major austerity charge to be imposed on the Irish people.

“It’s as fair and as affordable to the people as possible,” he said.

The full impact of the charges on older people will not be known until later this year, according to Age Action.

“As with any national scheme, the devil will be in the detail and we need to see how these charges will pan out, but we note that the plan announced today includes a number of key principles which, if properly implemented, should provide greater protection against poverty for older people,” said spokesman Eamon Timmins.

Trade union Unite said the charges will discourage people from spending and result in up to 3,000 fewer jobs.

“The proposed charges will impact disproportionately on these and other vulnerable households, while having a negligible impact on higher earners,” said regional secretary Jimmy Kelly.

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