01 October 2014

Water and Taxes

Water charges go into effect across the country today. As we have come to expect here, things are off to a bad start! Many people are angry and they have a right to be so, it seems. The entire "scheme" was a mess before it even began (projects are called schemes here, which calls to my mind an element of shady underhandedness--it seems appropriate).
 To begin with, it was not known until yesterday morning at 7 a.m. what the final decisions about actual charges would be, even though there have been wildly disparate numbers thrown around for months. These charges went into effect at midnight. Apparently, most people have not been paying for water for quite some time and are not happy about doing so in the future. For the first 9 months, everyone will get charged at the assessed rate. For us, that will be 278 euro per year (176 for the first adult and 102 for the second). For families with grown children living at home, tack on another 102 euro for each--it adds up fast. Under 18s will get some kind of allowance. They supposedly have been sending out packets for people to fill out and return. This has been going on for over a month, they say, but we have not received one. This will allow people to claim allowances for children and health conditions. It will require people to provide PPS numbers (like social security numbers) and this has people up in arms.

At the end of 9 months, the story goes, people will begin getting charged for actual usage because the meters will be installed (or at least 80% of them will be) and readings will be taken. If a household uses less than the assessed volume, they will get a credit and if it's more, they will start paying for their actual usage. Bit of a problem there, too. Some people have photos of their meters that have already been ticking. So yesterday there was a guy on the news trying to explain things. One of the hosts asked how all of the meters were going to be read by midnight. The guy dodged the question. The host tried again. Another dodge. Finally, as though he was talking to a young child, he explained that people were tweeting photos of their water meter readings--one was at 55,000 liters. Another at 10,000. The guy repeated that if people use less they will get a credit. The host asked him how they could know how much they used if the meters were not read before the charges kick in--if you don't do a reading, you have no baseline from which to start counting. After the 5th attempt, the guy said, "It is Irish Water's job to read the meters. We just provide oversight." Fail.

The first bills do not arrive until January, so I expect there will be another hassle to add to the regularly scheduled Eircom nonsense. I have no faith at all that Irish Water will be professional or competent. A woman from Cork is already suing the government to try and stop the scheme. It is astonishing how convoluted things can get here. It seems that a big tangled mess is produced rather quickly and it all goes downhill from there. We have been hearing about this for months--protests, work stoppages preventing meters from being installed, court cases, different stories about charges, allowances and how it will all work--it's a circus.

To add to people's misery, there are many people around the country that have had boil notices for a very long time! Undrinkable water is apparently a fairly common feature around the country! People's water sometimes comes out of the tap brown. People have described clumps of moss coming out of the spigot. Earlier on, it was suggested that people with undrinkable water would be allowed to pay a reduced rate (!!!!!) for their water supply!! No surprise that anger erupted and it was finally decided that they will be exempt from paying for water supply, but will have to pay for the water that goes down the drain. It is sometimes hard to believe that this is Europe in 2014.

We had a few days last week of thinking Bill was going to forgo his monthly chat with Eircom because they made a mistake on our bill. He got the bill. It was correct! He paid it. Today, however, they kept their record of incompetence perfect and intact, with a letter that said we are past due and in danger of being shut off. Bill called and was talking to another person who told him a bunch of whatever crap flew into her head at the moment. Yes, the monthly charge was paid, but there was still that 150 euro deposit, which we were told would come off the bill--it is still there because they did not properly set up the direct debit nor did they send the paperwork we were told to expect when Bill talked to them last month. According to the latest Eircom clueless wonder, the 150 euros represented all of the past bills we have never paid--LOL. Bill pointed out that he has paid all of the bills within days of receiving them. She said she had to go talk to someone else and asked if she could call him back. He told her to send the papers he was supposed to get last month. She said she would. And I know what that's worth--nothing at all. Of course she has not called back. No surprise there.

We stopped at the pharmacy today so Bill could get some prescriptions filled. It's right around the corner.

A couple of months ago he needed one of his medications and we didn't yet have our medical cards. The doctor scribbled the prescription on a piece of letterhead and that was that. Now we do have the medical cards, so everything was carefully printed out in quadruplicate. We did not have to pay for any of the medication, but we did have to pay 7.50 euro in tax. That's not a problem, but it is a bit puzzling. I have yet to figure out how the VAT works here. I think the highest level is 23%, but I am not sure what gets taxed at that rate or one of the lower rates or not at all! When we bought our slow cooker, it cost 20 euro and I figured on paying another 4 in tax. It wasn't taxed at all! I think I would rather see discretionary purchases like slow cookers taxed before people's medications. I didn't get a chance to ask what the price of the three prescriptions would have been--we know the one he got before was 6.60, but we don't know how much of that was tax. In any case, Bill's medications are not very expensive, so the tax is not very much, and I'm not concerned about paying it. For people on expensive medications, though, the tax could be a real burden.

We had the same pharmacist this time as we did the first time and we both like her. Competent people really stand out here and she is one of those. She is friendly and volunteers information in a clear, concise, professional manner. 

I guess the news will be all about water charges for a day or two and then they will get back to reporting on the regular government circus. I think that sometime this week there is supposed to be a debate about whether to have a referendum regarding whether to remove the laws against blasphemy from the Constitution. I think in the spring there will also be votes on whether or not to remove the language that says women belong in the home, but I am not sure if this still requires more debate or discussion. In Europe. In 2014.

Clarification: Although we sometimes get annoyed at the incompetence of Irish companies like Eircom, mostly we have gotten to the point where we just laugh at what goes on here. Except for the human rights violations of women and asylum seekers, which are serious, ongoing, and disturbing, most of what goes on is really rather comical--like a Saturday Night Live skit or an old Abbott and Costello movie. It's impossible to take it seriously. Most mornings, listening to the radio gives us something to laugh at and we learn that we still have the capacity for amazement.


  1. So glad you are getting used to the Irish way! Taxes are embedded in the price, unless you are buying wholesale. That goes for VAT in the UK and Ireland and GST in

    1. Ah! Thank you! That explains it! I could not figure it out! We would buy something at Tesco and there was never anything on the receipt about VAT. Then when we went to Letterkenny and bought stuff at Aldi, there was a whole list of different VAT percentages and how much of each we paid, I have a friend who asked me about tax here and I had told her I didn't get it--now I can report back :-)