Thursday, 19 January 2017
10. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government the way in which he calculated the figure of €14 million as recovered revenue if an excess charge for water was introduced; and if his Department has calculated the amount it would cost to administer such a scheme. [2137/17]
In a report in The Sunday Timeson 4 January it was suggested the Minister had indicated in an interview that a charge for excess water usage would yield in the region of €14 million annually. Is the report accurate? If it is, on what basis did he derive that figure? If it is not accurate, has the Department done any calculations or had discussions with Irish Water about what a charge for excess use of water could or would be?
I said that if there were no charging for water this year the State would have to find an extra €114 million, but that I expected there would be some charge for the wasting of water that would bring the figure down below €100 million.
It has been deduced from my comments that I am saying this will equal €14 million, but that is not actually the case. The water committee will determine this when it makes its decision on what constitutes normal usage of water. In other words, it will decide on the level above which people should be asked to make a contribution for wasting water. I do not think the alternative approach, which involves asking the taxpayer to pay for people who are wasting water, is a credible one. That will be a decision for the committee to make. The number of people who will have to pay for over-use or wastage of water will depend on where the committee decides to set the bar or benchmark with regard to average usage plus a certain percentage for the purposes of flexibility. I do not think we can provide a credible guesstimate of the income that will be received by the State or by Irish Water until we know that figure.
While I accept the Minister's point about the inference he mentioned, it comes from the headline of the article rather than from my interpretation of the article. This is not a question of whether the committee decides to set a level; it is a question of what the revenue would be and what the cost of administration would be.
Those of us who do not want any water charges have made that clear. It would be very useful for the committee's deliberations if the Department or Irish Water were to provide indicative figures so that we can know how much money these charges would bring in if the average usage were set at a certain level and how much it would cost to administer these charges in such circumstances. Many of us are concerned that regardless of whether the relevant figure is €14 million or €30 million, the cost of administering the collection of these moneys would be the same or greater, which would make all of this a pointless exercise. I will repeat the question I asked at the outset. Has the Department looked at what the returns would be if various averages were set, and at what the cost of administration would be in all such circumstances? If not, is it the intention of the Minister or Irish Water to undertake such an exercise in order to assist the committee, which does not have access to the data needed to determine such figures?
The committee has an opportunity to ask multiple stakeholders questions about anything it likes. It has been doing that to date. The importance of this issue extends beyond the creation of a revenue stream. I believe there is an obligation to ensure some element of the water policy that is to be determined encourages conservation and applies the polluter pays principle so that we can be consistent with the commitments we have made under the water framework directive. Of course there are some flexibilities in this regard. I have received a letter from the European Commissioner to that effect. I do not think it is credible for us to say that if people waste water, the general taxpayer will simply pick up the tab. There are two issues here. First, we need to consider what we need to do to reassure people that normal domestic water usage will be paid for through general taxation, but those who waste water will have to pay for that water. Second, if that principle is agreed on in the committee, we need to consider the thresholds that should apply to these decisions and what income streams will flow from them. The expert commission has said that we should look to the regulator to provide suggestions and recommendations in that regard. I think that is a sensible suggestion.
The Minister has now failed to answer my question on two occasions. Many of the points he raised are relevant and can be debated. However, I want to ask my question for a third time. Will the Minister, directly through his Department or indirectly by making a request to Irish Water, assist the committee in its deliberations by providing it with information on the revenue that could be derived from a charge and what the cost of pursuing such a charge might be? Notwithstanding everything the Minister has said, it would make no sense to apply a charge for so-called excess water usage if the cost of applying that charge is greater than the revenue from it. I appreciate that this is not just about generating revenue. I understand the Minister's interpretation of the water framework directive. Taxpayers will not understand it if we propose to pursue the introduction of a charge if the cost of applying that charge is greater than the revenue from that charge. Will the Minister provide the information to which I have referred? Will he ask Irish Water to provide it to the committee? This is the third time I have asked this question. I hope I will get an answer this time.
There is nothing preventing the committee from asking my Department any questions it wants. I will try to ensure the committee gets accurate answers. Similarly, there is nothing preventing the committee from asking Irish Water to respond to questions that the committee needs to get answered so that it can draw conclusions.