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The Government will have to find more than €140 million if it is to repay people who have paid water charges.
The amount collected by Irish Water to date is estimated to be slightly more than half of what should have been paid since the charge was introduced at the beginning of last year.
Any refund would have to come from the exchequer, as the money collected has already been used by Irish Water.
Earlier this year, Irish Water said 61 per cent of customers were paying their bills by the end of the third quarterly billing cycle.
That equated to 928,000 customers who had paid all or part of their bill. The amount taken in was €110 million.
A fourth quarterly bill cycle has since been processed and the utility is currently sending out its fifth series of quarterly bills.
Informed sources have estimated the total collected to date is more than €140 million, with two-thirds of households having paid something.
The water charge is capped at €160 for households with a single adult, and €260 for households with two or more adults.
People who have registered are paid an annual €100 water conservation grant. According to the Department of Social Protection, the total number of grant applications processed to date is 889,925, which equates to €88.9 million in payments.
Since the beginning of this year, under the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2015, homeowners have to settle their water charge bills before selling their property.
The Civil Debts Act 2015 provides for creditors, including utilities such as Irish Water, to use the courts to collect unpaid bills by way of deductions from an employee’s wages or from a social welfare recipient’s welfare payments.
However, the particular sections of the Act that allow this have not yet been activated and doing so “will be a matter for the next government”, according to a spokesman for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly told the Dáil on Wednesday that a suspension or scrapping of water charges “will lose billions of potential investment in water and I believe we will have water shortages in Dublin in future years’’.