IRISH WATER customers could be facing bills of up to €1,000 to repair leaks or blockages as they will be held legally responsible for some repairs to waste water pipes outside their boundary walls.
That they are liable to pay for such repairs will come as a surprise to many householders, as the advice from the government and Irish Water has been they would only have to pay to fix leaks within their boundaries.
However, documents supplied to The Sunday Times by Irish Water show householders will also be liable for the cost of any repairs to waste water pipes between their property and public sewers. In most cases, such repairs would require householders to seek a “road opening” licence from the local authority — a process that could cost up to €1,000.
Most local authorities require applicants to pay an upfront fee based on the scale of the works, combined with an administration charge, and a refundable cash deposit pending satisfactory restoration of any footpath or road. Louth county council, for example, charges a minimum fee of €600 for a road opening licence. Applicants must also show evidence of having public-liability insurance.
Catherine Murphy, an independent TD, said confusion over the legal responsibility of householders to repair leaks is increasing public concern about the introduction of water charges, and causing unnecessary anxiety for low-income families.
“It is outrageous that people will have to pay to open a public road or footpath, and incur a lot of different expense, and expose themselves to potential public liability if any repairs cause subsequent accident or injury,” she said.
“The idea that householders will have a public liability will scare the daylights out of people and only alienate them further towards water charges.”
The Kildare deputy accused both environment minister Alan Kelly and Irish Water of providing inconsistent answers over who had legal responsibility for fixing leaks. In one reply, Kelly said the householder was responsible for repairs “from the main stopcock/meter to the house”, while in another statement he said Irish Water was responsible “to the curtilage of a private dwelling”.
Asked to clarify the contradiction last week, Kelly said pipes inside the curtilage of a property were considered the responsibility of the householder under the Water Services Act 2007.
“Water meters are being fitted at the stopcock at the curtilage of the property. In circumstances where there is a distance, however short, between the stopcock on public land and the curtilage of a premises, then the responsibility for any maintenance or repair of any underlying infrastructure rests with Irish Water,” he said.
However, Irish Water documents show the liability on householders to fix leaks extends from their property up to where pipes join public sewers for waste water, and to 225mm outside the boundary wall for the drinking-water pipe network.
Murphy said the mixed messages about the legal responsibility of householders for fixing leaks was highlighting how Irish Water had been established “at break-neck speed for financial reasons rather than in the interest of consumers”.
Irish Water has estimated that about 10% of households will experience a leak — a figure that equates to more than 100,000 properties. However, it has only provided for repairs to just under 31,000 homes up to the end of 2016.
The company has set aside a budget of €51m for a “first fix free” scheme which is expected to be ratified in the next few months by the Commission for Energy Regulation.
The Central Statistics Office (CSO) will play a key role over the next two weeks in “approving” any changes to the water-charges regime proposed by government, according to official sources.
The Economic Management Council — the taoiseach, tanaiste and the ministers for finance and public expenditure — will examine proposals on Thursday to reduce water charges for houses with more than two adults, or with a number of students or young adults living at home.
The CSO will then apply a “market test” to any proposed changes to verify the level of state subvention to Irish Water has not increased to a level where its future borrowings must be added to the national debt. Irish Water’s forecasted income stream currently allows it to keep its debt off the national balance sheet.