I am but a simple person but if I wanted to implement a user pays system for water charges in Ireland, here is how I would have done it.
- Sorted out the infrastructure
- Install household meters
- Send usage notices to house holders
- Do this over a period of at least a year
- Set up a utility company to charge per usage in a similar manner to the other utilities: ie every two months rather than every three.
- Implement an over time diminishing tax credit.
In other words, before founding Irish Water or some equivalent, I would have fixed the principal problems with the water network. Irish Water’s twitter feed is a daily litany of things being fixed. This really shouldn’t be happening. There is no way that the infrastructure should have been handed over in the state it appears to be in.
Additionally, as the more sensible approach to water charges is to base it on usage, over time before charges fall due, users should get a picture of their usage.
Then, when the network is okay, and we the people are familiar with our usage in actual terms, implement charges.
This, in my view, would have been the sensible way about doing it.
- a lot of people are unhappy about how the meter install company was selected. More information on the rationale would be helpful
- a lot of people have pointed out that they are having trouble reading their own meters. Irish Water has suggested people will never have to do so. However, the vast majority of people in this country are well acquainted with the idea of checking their electricity and gas meters, some because they do it be default, some because they move house every once in a while. According to a conversation I had with someone on Twitter, by the end of September, Irish Water had not yet figured out what process would be in place for someone moving house.
- Because of the way Irish Water was set up, and the lack of transparency about usage, a system of allowances was set up, to be administered by Irish Water. Who decided that they needed the PPS of the accountholder and their children (but not any other adults) to ensure people got the right allowances. The only allowance which is linked to an individual is the allowance per child. The other allowance is household linked. It should not need a PPS number.
- Because of the screaming and howling about all this, a terrified government appears to have come up with the idea of a tax credit as well. The implementation of said tax credit doesn’t look to be exactly clear yet. But we do now apparently have a water charges system that a) involves usage allowances and b) tax credits. This doesn’t strike me as an efficient way of arranging things. Most other countries get by with a simpler set up.
So, what would be the best thing to do? Well, the Irish Government are in a bind, really, because they have to do this. It is not unique to them – I had correspondence with John Gormley on the matter and at that stage, the Green Party at least, when they held the Environment ministry, had no intention of reducing income tax to cater for the fact that water which we had previously been paid for through taxation was now planned to be charged via a utility. It is hard to say how Fianna Fáil and the Green Party would have implemented this (because I am certain they would have (my contact with John Gormley dates back to March 2010)), and it is evident at the time, John Gormley’s expectation was that the central coffers would not necessarily suffer by people paying water charges directly to a utility.
The issue for me is not that it’s happening. It is that if there was possibly a way to do something badly, the Irish Government appear to have managed to choose every possible poor decision in so doing. This is what I find irritating. We were starting a water utility from scratch and we could have made it work if we’d tried.
It would help if some people with the power to change things – presumably we do have some – had the guts to recognise this and fix things. I’d prefer they avoided cosmetic things like firing half the managers. It is the whole way the system was set up from the outset which needs review, and not just the current people in charge.