‘Tap tax’: Money down the drain
18 November 2004
Alliance spokesman for Laganbank Allan Leonard has urged the Government to carefully consider alternative proposals to water reform, and has described current plans for a ‘tap tax’ as grossly unfair.
As the Northern Ireland Assembly is suspended, direct rule Ministers have proceeded with proposals to introduce additional charges for water and sewerage services. These charges would be on top of the payment made through the Regional Rate.
Mr Leonard said: “While investment in water and sewerage services is absolutely crucial, the whole issue of water reform as handled by the Government has been a tissue of lies followed by a consultative farce with a pre-determined outcome.
“No-one is happy with the ‘tap tax’ the Government is proposing, as it is unfair and will lead to some of the most vulnerable being unable to afford a basic human necessity.
“Consumers should not be asked to pay twice for their water, through new charges and rates, nor should they be asked to compensate for the lack of investment in basic water services over the past 30 years.
“Metering, for example, based on what a household actually uses, rather than the value of the property, is a fairer system.
“Charges based on property values would badly affect South Belfast. House prices here are amongst the highest in Northern Ireland, yet there are still pockets of deprivation and many vulnerable people who would be forced to pay bills they couldn’t afford easily.
“There need to be built-in safeguards, to protect those people whose water consumption is high but necessary.”
Mr Leonard said the Government has tried to make a false comparison between what households in Northern Ireland pay, compared to Great Britain. This ignores the facts that:
- Average NI household income is 19% below the UK average
- More NI households (21%) rely on benefits, than in the UK overall (12%)
- Local households also pay 26% more for fuel, light and power than in the rest of the UK.
Mr Leonard continued: “Alliance accepts the need for improved water and sewerage services.
“However, the ratepayers of Northern Ireland are not to blame for the historic underinvestment.
“Home owners have paid their rates. It would be a cruel injustice if they were expected to pay twice — first through the Regional Rate contribution and second through new charges — for these essential services.
“Alliance has called for Ministers to tell home owners how much of a rebate should be expected from Regional Rate payments, if new charges are to go ahead.”