16 September 2004 Edition
British to impose water charges
The introduction of water charges in the Six Counties will penalise the vulnerable and put low income families at risk of falling into water poverty according to the General Consumer Council.
The Council was responding to the announcement by NIO Minister John Spellar on Monday 13 September that water charges will be introduced in the North in April 2006 with homeowners paying one third of the full costs in the first year, rising to two thirds in the second and the full amount in the third.
However Chief Executive of the General Consumer Council Eleanor Gill branded the new water and sewage charges as unfair to the vulnerable and rubbished Spellar's plan to introduce a 25% discount for low income families.
"The British Government's own statistics show that one in four households here earns less that £200 per week and under this scheme these households would be at risk of falling into water poverty. This discount is considerably less than what's on offer from other public services like transport where the British Government rightly subsidises the vulnerable".
The level of water charges in the North will be calculated on the value of a person's home and with the average house costing £135,000 householders will have to find £150 to pay for water on top of a standing charge of around £55 for maintainance to the water and sewage system. Combined with the proposed new rates system, the average household will be paying out a total of almost £900 a year for water and rates.
Sinn Féin's Finance spokesperson Francie Molloy MLA accused the Direct Rule minister of "sneaking in his water tax and privatisation agenda under cover of the negotiations in Leeds Castle".
"We have already been paying for our water and we are now being asked to foot the bill for the British government's failure to invest in the water infrastructure. There is no guarantee that we will get value for money, The only guarantee is that this water tax will create and reinforce existing patterns of poverty and damage to the local economy with the possible loss of up to 500 jobs in the water service".
Molloy said Sinn Féin will continue to work to block the imposition of water taxes and to stop the privatisation of the water services.