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Water Charge FAQ - your questions answered

category national | bin tax / household tax / water tax | other press author Saturday November 01, 2014 01:16author by T Report this post to the editors

This water charge FAQ from the WSM answers your questions about the water charge and the growing resistance to it. If there is a question you want to ask that is not here or if you think one of the answers could be improved contact us via https://twitter.com/wsmireland or https://www.facebook.com/WorkersSolidarityMovement with your suggestions.

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General Information

Who is liable for the Water Charge?
The people who live in the building.

How will Irish Water know who to charge?
From the information you provide in the registration forms

Does the landlord or tenant have to pay the water charge?
Once the landlord informs Irish Water that the tenant is the householder, the tenant is responsible for paying the charge.  The charge is an issue between the tenant and Irish water.  A landlord cannot legally threaten a tenant with eviction for not paying. 

My landlord is increasing my rent in anticipation of the water charges, can they do this and what should I do about it?
Landlords are not supposed to do this.  It’s been stated very clearly by Irish Water that the bill is between the tenant and Irish Water and has nothing to do with the landlord.  All the landlord is entitled to do is give the names of tenants to Irish Water.

How much is the Water Charge?
Although the amounts vary depending on the number of users, citizens’ information website estimates that water charges is €629.52 for 2 adults and 2 children in one house for the year,before allowances.  However it must be noted that any allowances initiated by the government are in direct response to the outcry over water charges, and are likely to be scrapped if/when this outcry dies down - as happened with the bin charge waivers.  If the charge is established, it will surely increase every year.

What should I do with the Registration form?
Our advice is to do nothing, boycott the registration process and refuse to comply.

Will returning the registration packet with ‘No Contract, No Consent’ give me legal protection?
No. The only real protection is in numbers, this is why it’s imperative to convince others join the campaign and not to pay their bills also.

What happens if I don’t return the Irish Water registration form, or return it blank?
Irish Water will bill the householder according to the Water Meter readings without deductions for allowances being made.

When do the first bills arrive?
January 26th.  The original date was January 1st, but this was pushed back due to massive non-compliance and popular pressure.

What are the penalties for not paying?
You won’t get a water usage allowance.  The government has also said it will reduce water pressure ‘to a trickle’. However, this water reduction can only be made by tampering with your water meter.  As part of a mass campaign we can reverse this water reduction, making the water charge unenforceable in another way.  You can be taken to court but fines cannot be imposed.

I’m self-employed.  Are there any implications for getting tax clearance cert?
No.

Can I defer payment?
Irish Water have made no provision for deferred payments.  However, some may feel more comfortable with the non-payment strategy if they put the money to cover the bills aside.

Is it a criminal offence to boycott the registration of the water charge?
No.

I have sent in (or intend to send in) my registration form, can I still participate in the non-payment campaign?
Yes. Just because you’ve registered, doesn’t mean you need to pay when the first bill arrives in January.

Where does Denis O’Brien fit into all this?
Denis O’Brien - Ireland’s richest person - owns Siteserv, a company specialising in water meter installation.  Siteserv owed €100m to Anglo Irish Bank, but the government (i.e. the taxpayer) wrote off that debt for them. It was given a contract to install water meters in Ireland to the tune of approximately 500 milliion euro.


Why oppose the water charge

Why shouldn’t water be a commodity?
Water is essential to human life, otherwise healthy people will literally die if they are denied water for 3-5 days. Supply should not be something for shareholders to make profits from.  Commodities, by their nature, are more accessible to the more wealthy than the poor.  Those with children and families, who therefore have a greater need for water, tend to be more likely to be under financial strain already. 

Isn’t the water charge a conservation measure?
If the concern was about conservation of water, it would have made far more sense to invest the €500 million that has been spent on the installation of meters on fixing the leaks in pipes.  In Dublin alone, over 40% of water leaks from faulty pipes before ever it reaches people’s homes. There is no evidence that meters have an appreciable effect on people’s usage habits.  Comparisons with areas in Britain where meters have been installed show that, at most, meters reduce water usage by about 1½%.

And even if large swathes of people begin conserving water in order to save on the charges, Irish Water will simply have to increase their prices, since they will need to cover all their expenses and make a profit.  The actual amount of water that’s used isn’t a particularly large factor in the cost of water provision: maintenance, repair, treatment and running costs form the bulk of costs.

A public education programme about the need for water conservation would have a much greater impact on water usage than the imposition of meters and charges.

Why, then, is the charge being imposed?
It is effectively yet another austerity tax.  Imposition of a water charge was part of the so-called ‘bailout deal’ struck between the Fianna Fáil/Green party government and the Troika (IMF, ECB, European Commission).  Despite the fact that both Fine Gael and Labour opposed the imposition of this charge before the general election, they proceeded to introduce it once in power.

Household Charge, Property Tax, Universal Social Charge, Pay Cuts, Welfare Cuts, Cuts in Social Services… the list of austerity cuts and extra taxes is almost endless.  These are all imposed on us in order to pay off the gambling debts of bankers and financial gamblers. The water charge is another that they hope to add to the list.

The other principal motivating factor behind the imposition of the charge is to line the water service up for privatisation (see below).  The government have said that they have established Irish Water as a semi-state company so that it can borrow money on the financial markets in order to upgrade the pipe network.  What will most likely happen if they get their way is that when the programme of upgrade is finished (and paid for by us) the company will then be sold, which will ultimately result in our water service being owned by multinational companies who will make exorbitant profits while we pay increased charges.


If the water charge is not paid, won’t the money have to be collected somewhere else?
We already pay for the water service through our general taxation.  There are several ways in which the government could raise extra taxes without imposing this charge on us.  Political decisions are made about where the burden of increased charges or taxation should fall.  The government believe that we - the ordinary people - should pay even more.  However, the choice could be made to make big business or the wealthy pay more.  After all we have been deluged with increased charges and taxes over the past number of years.  Whether the government - either this one or any future one - will make that choice depends on the extent to which we make that political demand through resistance and pressure. 
A couple of alternative possibilities are:-
A Financial Transaction Tax (a 0.1% tax on financial speculation) would raise €100m
Even a minimal Wealth Tax could raise €150m

Will Irish Water be privatised?
Very likely yes (See above).  The government tells us that there is no intention to privatise it.  But these are the same political parties that before the last election told us that they were opposed to the introduction of both the property tax and the water charges.  Why believe them now?

Indeed EU competition laws will probably dictate that once the charge is established the provision of water will have to be opened up to ‘competition’.

What’s wrong with privatisation?
Privatisation will mean that the primary reason for existence of the company will be the making of profit rather than the provision of water.  It will inevitably mean the end of tax credits and ‘allowances’ for children or those on low incomes (as happened with the bin tax waiver).  Privatisation will also result in a poorer service for areas that are more costly to provide.  Witness what has happened with Eircom since its privatisation,  the company has been bought and sold on international capital markets several times resulting in huge profits for financial gamblers but there has been little or no investment in broadband, or even telephone services, especially in rural Ireland.


Doesn’t everyone else in Europe pay water charges?
In Ireland we also pay for water provision.  We pay for it through general taxation.  This is a progressive way to pay for public services as those who earn most pay most. 


Tactics

How will the water charge be defeated?
If enough people refuse to pay, it will inevitably mean that the government will have to change their plans.  That is the key to stopping the imposition of this charge - Don’t Pay and convince as many as possible of your friends, neighbours and workmates not to pay either.

When the bills arrive in January, and people are deciding whether or not to pay, they will make that decision based on what they think everyone else is doing.  So between now and then we need to create a momentum of opposition to the charge that will give people the confidence to make the decision not to pay.

Remember, if someone is making a decision not to pay on their own, that’s a very scary thing to do.  If they’re making it in conjunction with their family members, neighbours and workmates it’s a lot less scary.  And if they’re making it in the context of knowing that there is massive opposition and that hundreds of thousands of others are making the same decision, that gives a huge sense of confidence.

And if there are hundreds of thousands of households not paying that gives us huge power, and will force the government into a re-think.

Can my water be disconnected if I don’t pay?
No.  The legislation states that they cannot disconnect anyone’s water supply.  They have threatened that they will reduce non-payers’ supply to a ‘trickle’.  But to do this, they have to fit a restrictor on the stopcock outside your house.  A well-organised campaign can take direct action to prevent them fitting restrictors to stopcocks - and can remove any restrictors that are fitted,  In the 1990s, when the Councils had the power to disconnect water supply the campaign managed to prevent most threatened cut-offs and re-connected supply to anyone who was disconnected within hours.

The work done in building the campaign locally in the coming months will ensure that threats to reduce water to a trickle can be faced down.

It is of course possible that they could change the law to allow disconnections.  Again though, if we have a strong campaign involving hundreds of thousands of households, will the government want to attempt to take us on?

Will they stop the charge from my wages or Social Welfare?
The current legislation does not allow them to do so.  And they are very unlikely to want to change the legislation to give them that power.  We all remember that when the boycott of the household charge was successful they changed the law to allow the Revenue Commissioners to deduct the property tax at source.

But remember that the primary motivation for introducing the water charge is to make the service ready for privatisation.  To do this they want it to have an independent ‘revenue-generating’ stream.  So having the Revenue Commissioners collecting it will not suit their purpose.

Again, though, they could of course change the law.  Whether they will do so or not depends on two things - the strength of the boycott ie how many hundreds of thousands of households are refusing to pay and the strength of the protests - how many people are getting out on the streets and showing their opposition.

Could I be taken to court for not paying?
Yes. The government/Irish Water could take people to court looking for an order for payment.  But if they do take anyone to court, this provides us with a massive opportunity to organise huge protests outside the courts.  When one person is taken to court we should turn up in our hundreds or even thousands.

This worked very successfully during the campaign against water charges in the 90s.  When non-payers were taken to court (only a tiny percentage ever were), hundreds of their neighbours and supporters turned up to support them.  The campaign legal team challenged all aspects of the cases in the courts.  Campaigners knew that even if they were successful in the courts the government could change the law  but used legal challenges to delay and frustrate the councils’ attempts to get court orders.

This can be done again.  The key thing is having huge numbers of non-payers.  The court system is already over-stretched so it would be impossible to take legal proceedings against hundreds of thousands of people.  And any court cases can become a rallying point around which we galvanise huge protests.  the government will be aware of this too and so will be reluctant to take court cases.

Should I just vote for Sinn Féin or other anti-water charge candidates to abolish the water charge?
No. Elections are over a year away.  If we pay now the charges will be an established fact by the time of the next election.  We must remember that both Fine Gael and Labour opposed both the property tax and the water charges before the last election.  Yet we know what happened when they were elected.  The best way to ensure the charges are defeated is to refuse to pay now.  Then whoever is in government - whether before or after the next election will be forced to abolish the charges.

Even from the perspective of a party which is opposed to the charges and says that it will be a red line issue in terms of negotiating a programme for government after the next election - surely it would greatly strengthen their hand in those negotiations if there are hundreds of thousands of people not paying.  If, on the other hand, we have paid the charges - even if we have done so under protest - they will be an established fact and the chance that their abolition can be negotiated will be practically nil.  

Should we be concentrating on preventing the installation of meters?
Those communities which have organised protests which have delayed or prevented the installation of meters have done us all a huge service.  They have highlighted the issue and have provided a focus for opposition to Irish Water and the imposition of the charges.

In any community where people can organise themselves to hold similar protests, we would greatly encourage it.  It shows the government that there is opposition and it gives people the confidence to organise together and get a sense of our power.

What if we can’t stop them installing all the meters?
Even if every water meter is installed, the water charge can’t be enforced if enough people refuse to pay.

Surely if we get enough people into the streets the government will have to abolish the water charge?
Big demonstrations are very important for two reasons.  Firstly they show politicians and the government that we are serious (although not paying the bill will give them that message in an even more strident manner).  Secondly, and more importantly, demonstrations and protests are crucial to building confidence in people, both in themselves and in each other. By participating in protests, by seeing huge numbers of people on the streets, people realise that they are not alone.

So yes we need large protests.  But we need to remember that the government can ignore protests if all we do is protest,  Protests should be seen as a necessary part of building people’s confidence and thus making a mass boycott possible.

What can I do to stop the water charge?
3 steps
Don’t Pay
Join in or help to organise protests

Become an organiser or a ‘persuader’ - if you are refusing to pay it is in your interest to encourage your neighbours, family members and workmates to refuse to pay as well.  So get involved in your local campaign, or start a local campaign by leafleting your area and organising a meeting to decide where to go and link up with other groups nationwide.

Remember the charges cannot be defeated by political parties, trade unions or community organisations - although all have an important part to play.  They will only be beaten by the active involvement of tens of thousands of ordinary people - people just like you.  If each one of us plays our part we can build an unbeatable campaign.

Can we defeat the water charge through the courts?
It’s very unlikely. While some groups aim to organise by using contract law this is not how the courts operate. In the case, Ryan v AG, the Irish courts established that no personal rights are unlimited and that in the Irish Constitution, no rights are absolute. This gives the courts leeway in contract law.

Is it true, as some groups have suggested, that there can be no legal charge in the absence of a contract between the user and Irish Water?
This is not true. The authority to charge users water charges comes from Part 3 of the Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013, in particular Section 21, which says Irish Water “shall charge each customer for the provision of its water services in accordance with the approved water charge plan.” The act says that the customer is ‘’the occupier of the premises in respect of which the water supply is provided.”  Occupation and provision of services, on its own, gives rise to liability for water charges. The entitlement to charge derives from the Act and is not dependent on the presence of a contract.  If Section 21 did not exist, a contract would of course be needed – but this is not the case. An act of the Oireachtas can impose liability where no contract exists.

What the Irish Water Service Act 2013 does, among other things, is transfer the ownership of the national water infrastructure to Irish Water, and grant them both a statutory right and duty to levy and collect charges from “consumers”. This means that, legally, you do not have to consent to the charges; they are being imposed upon you. In real terms this means that returning the Irish Water application packs with “no consent, no contract” or burning them, does not alter the legal position; you are still liable for the charges.

Also the courts have stated that artificial legal entities/legal persons (Irish Water) must also be protected by the laws of the State against unjust attacks on their property rights as corporations are viewed by the courts as legal persons with certain rights.  In the hierarchy of rights it is likely that the courts will favour property rights.

In McKenna v an Taoiseach, the courts held that ''Not every grievance can be remedied by the courts…judges must not…be led…into areas calling for adjudication on political and non-justiciable issues.” “The plaintiff’s complaint…is a complaint of political misconduct on which this court can express no view.”, meaning the courts cannot interfere with the workings of the allocation of resources, or what is in effect taxation by the government.

It is highly unlikely (or even impossible) that the courts will rule against the government.  A pertinent example of this was the Blake v the Attorney General (1981) case, where the Rent Restrictions Acts (1946-67) were struck down as violating landlords' property rights. Here we saw a small group (landlords) dictating the law through the court/constitution to the government.

Should we be asking others not to pay, considering the risk?
We must consider the risk that the water charge is imposed and we have to pay it. The fact is that the water charge can’t be defeated another way. The more boycotters, the less risk. So instead of spreading fear we should be spreading confidence.

What can we do to lower the risk of non-payment?
It can’t be denied that there’s a risk involved in not paying the water charge, but there are a few things we can do to lower that risk. The first is to convince others not to pay - we have safety in numbers. The second is to create community/campaign funds to assist anyone who is taken to court with legal fees. The third is to protest the courts.The fourth is to fill the courts with so many cases that they simply cannot handle the workload. (See above)

 

This water charge FAQ answers some of your questions about the water charge and the growing resistance to it.  If there is a question you want to ask that is not here or if you think one of the answers could be improved contact us via https://twitter.com/wsmireland or https://www...;with your suggestions.

Want to help convince your neighboors that organisation and non-payment are the way to defeat the water charge?  http://www.wsm.ie/wsm-water-charges-leaflet-2014

Related Link: http://www.wsm.ie/water-charge-faq
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