There was consternation among some councillors at this weeks meeting of the Galway County Council over reports that local authorities will be forced to collect debts on behalf of Irish Water.
Tuam district councillor Shaun Cunniffe claimed that a briefing document available online sets out that councils will be asked to collect unpaid water charges from council tenants on behalf of the utility company. A statement by Irish Water which is outlined below has since confirmed that this will indeed be the case. Councillor Cunniffe proposed and passed a motion to object to this practice which he labelled as outrageous, and this was seconded by Independent councillor James Charity. ‘’We have a situation where the Minister in charge of the water fiasco [Phil Hogan], made a mess of the legislation and has now gone to Europe. If this was to happen, it would basicially see the county council stepping into the role of debt collector acting as a third party debt collector on behalf of Irish Water. Many council tenants are enraged at this.’’
The Director of Services for the Environment, Jim Cullen, said he was aware of the reports circulating, but said the county council has not, as yet, received any formal instruction from Irish Water to collect unpaid charges. Galway county council currently has more than 2,000 tenants. Mr Cullen said he would be ‘’surprised’’ if Irish Water was to go ahead with this move and he outlined that the council would not want to be collecting on behalf of Irish Water. Councillor Sean Canney said there was clarity needed on a lot of issues relating to Irish Water. ‘’There is a huge amount of uncertainty around this. Can we get Irish Water to clarify these issues, can somebody come down to answer our questions?’’ he asked council officials.
The Galway Advertiser contacted Irish Water to seek clarity on the issue and the company returned a statement saying: ‘’In the particular case of local authority tenants, where deposit arrangements do not apply, and a customer is in arrears for more than 12 months and a late payment fee has accrued, Irish Water, having first provided the customer with the opportunity to pay the arrears or enter into a payment plan, will advise the local authority concerned of the amount of arrears and the local authority will be required, by law, to recover the amount outstanding over a 12 month period, and remit the amount involved to Irish Water.’’