Athlone residents are being advised to check their insurance policies to ensure they are covered for the local authority fire service call-out charge.
Cllr Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran made the recommendation following a motion put forward by his colleague Paul Hogan who wants a review of call-out charges.
“We should all work together, not scaremongering,” said Cllr Moran, who said there’s an increase in the number of people who pay for nothing and get everything.
People who have Sky TV and two cars in the garden can’t expect others to pay their call-out charges, he said, adding that there will continue to be staff reductions if the council keeps providing services and isn’t being paid for them.
He said that before any fires, any call-outs, and any charges, it’s important that people check that their insurance covers the call-out charge. He was surprised when he checked himself to find out he wasn’t covered.
And he welcomed that the council will consider a full waiver when someone genuinely cannot pay.
Cllr Hogan had called for a review of call-out charges, saying that €500 is a disincentive to people to call the fire service, and even with a 50 per cent waiver, many people cannot afford the charge because €250 is more than a week’s income.
Cllr Jim Henson agreed, saying he believed there was a full waiver in place and if there wasn’t it should be reviewed.
But Cllr Cooney said the charge had been put in place because insurance companies were getting away without making any contribution.
He said that for people who are insured and those who are on low income, the contribution should be small, and called for detailed figures from the executive about how many payments are coming from insurance companies.
“A full hundred per cent waiver can lead to abuse,” said Cllr Shaw, but he said he also believed there was flexibility in the scheme.
Acting county manager Barry Kehoe said the last thing the council wants is to discourage people from calling the fire service, and the charge was introduced last July to recover some of the costs of the service.
Since then, of €0.5m costs levied, only €2,600 relates to waiver claims, he said, but promised greater detail at a further meeting. However, he confirmed that a full hundred per cent waiver is in place where there are clear indications that someone cannot pay.
Cllr Hogan welcomed the promise of detailed figures, but reminded the council that local charges are in the top five nationally.
“We have bad debt provision for people who can’t pay for a variety of things, but nothing for those who have a fire,” he said.