Wednesday, 4 March 2015
Water Charges Administration
9. To ask the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government if he will report on meetings or contacts he or his Department has had with private landlord representative bodies and local authorities concerning the payment of water charges by their tenants; and the legislative changes or arrangements he is considering on the matter. [9101/15]
My question is along the lines of the last one. The only straight answer we received to that question was that legislation would be brought before the House. That was not much of an answer. We could have that answer ourselves.
Irish Water is providing different information for the Minister. In briefings it claims legislation will be introduced to provide in concrete terms that if tenants do not pay after one year, landlords will be able to collect the bill, plus fine, from tenants’ deposits and that councils will be able to attach them to local authority tenants’ rents. Is that the Government’s intention? It is what Irish Water thinks is the Government’s intention. How can the Minister claim that this means everyone will be treated equally? It will not. It is discrimination against tenants, be they private or council, as such punitive measures cannot be taken against those who own their own homes.
Since 1 January 2014, Irish Water has statutory responsibility for all aspects of water services planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local levels. It is the occupier of a property that is liable to pay domestic water charges and legislation provides that the owner is the occupier unless the contrary is proven. Irish Water is providing landlords with the opportunity to prove that they are not the occupier by providing the tenant’s name. This will allow Irish Water to contact the tenant to complete the registration and bill him or her.
I do not understand why the Deputy cannot comprehend the following. We are in the process of ongoing consultations on this matter, but the Deputy wants me to stick my neck out and pick a date for when this will happen.
I would be subject to more criticism by the Deputy if I was not giving this level of detail. There are many options available to us, some of which the Deputy has outlined in his comments on Irish Water. While every aspect is being looked at, it is clear that what we put in place will not be punitive. There will be many options for people to pay their bills. There will be easy pay options for amounts as low as €5 and they will be able to go through all of the different options in using Payzone outlets, An Post and many other mechanisms.
There is no intention to be punitive in how Irish Water will collect payments. Let us be straight that the user has to pay, that tenants will have to pay and that the mechanism by which they will pay will be brought before the Houses following the consultation and having gone through the Government. That is the simple process which always happens.
The Minister should be straight about whether he agrees with what Irish Water states in briefings to Deputies, that it is most likely that private landlords will be able to collect the money for bills, plus fines, from deposits, while councils will be able to attach them to rents. Does the Minister agree with this? Is that the way he sees it in pursuance of non-payment by tenants? He can outline all the options he likes and make it really easy for people to pay, but the indications are that they will not. Only 17% of tenants have registered with Irish Water. The Minister has used the overall figures to suggest there will be a high level of non-payment and the corollary must be that tenants are not going to pay water charges. They have faced massive increases in rents and are often low paid workers who simply cannot afford to pay water charges. They understand that - there is a mass protest on 21 March - non-payment will defeat water charges. If the Minister is in favour of what Irish Water states is most likely to happen, will he admit that it is punitive? Tenants who already face bullying by landlords, increased rents and very difficult situations are faced with having the money to pay water charges stolen from their deposits.
The Government will decide what legislation is needed and the options that will be used to ensure parity and that people will pay their water bills. The options as referenced by the Deputy are among the many potential ones that could be utilised, all of which are under discussion, with various others. We have listened to many of the representative bodies, including tenant and landlord organisations, and are taking on board all issues raised. Obviously, organisations across the board will have different items to which they will want to point and it would be wrong of us not to take their views on board. When we have made definitive decisions, they will not be punitive in any way, shape or form. The Deputy might want to keep using that word to claim a potential victory, but I am quite satisfied that the options that will be presented to tenants in rented and local authority accommodation and all other strata of society as regards parity in paying their bills will be fair. Well over 66% of people have signed up, a figure the Deputy does not like to hear, but they are the simple facts.
The Minister was so happy about registration levels that he said it was, all of a sudden, a soft deadline. Senator Lorraine Higgins famously declared on "Morning Ireland" that it was not a "drop dead" deadline. Such is the level of success in the Minister's registration rates that he has now gone for a fourth deadline. I do not think this speaks to his confidence in the level of registration.
If it is not going to be punitive, does the Minister agree that there should be no discrimination against tenants and no ability to rob money from their deposits which clearly are paid for a particular purpose? There are cases of tenants being bullied into registering to pay water charges. Will the Minister make it very clear that no tenant should face punitive action from his or her landlord? Any threat of eviction, for example, would be entirely wrong in a case of non-registration by a tenant. That is a matter between the tenant and Irish Water. If there will be no penalties until July 2016, they can safely and comfortably join the boycott.
The majority of the people do not listen to Deputy Paul Murphy and have signed up. Is he not aware of this? He seems to have a pre-supposed idea that people are going to continue to listen to his waffle and misery that he keeps throwing out with his megaphone.
Wait one second. We are satisfied that the number of tenant registrations is on the increase and the process under way with Irish Water will deal with the matter. Everything will be done fairly. Despite the Deputy's desire and wish to use such eloquent language, nothing will be done in a punitive way in any way, shape or form. As I said before, I did not have the value of a private education like Deputies Paul Murphy and Richard Boyd Barrett.
What happens where there are multiple tenants in a property? What happens to the so-called water conservation grant where there are a number of tenants over the course of a year? I know of apartments in which there have been three tenants in the past year. Who will receive the water conservation grant in that case?