New laws were passed last night, allowing unpaid bills to be retrieved from people’s wages and social welfare payments
Frances Fitzgerald: Those solely on social welfare unlikely to have to pay Irish Water debts
Article by Eoin Brennan, Newstalk, 21st July 2015
People whose earnings come solely from social welfare payments will “in many cases … be found not to have the means to pay” their Irish Water bills, Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald has said.
The Seanad last night passed the controversial Civil Debt Procedures Bill, allowing some creditors, most notably Irish Water, to take payments directly from people’s pay or social welfare payments.
Ms Fitzgerald, Fine Gael TD for Dublin Mid West, spoke to Newstalk Breakfast this morning, and said the new measures are aimed to avoid “imprisonment where somebody hasn’t paid their debt.”
The Bill is intended as a final recourse when “all other methods have failed,” Ms Fitzgerald said.
Senators passed the Bill by a vote of 20 to 13.
“What this Bill does is it does away with imprisonment where somebody hasn’t paid their debt,” Ms Fitzgerald said.
“If all other methods have failed … at a certain point if a debt has not been paid”
“We do not want to be setting up a situation where people who simply cannot pay” are targeted by legislation, she added.
In each case “there will be an individual assessment” undertaken by the Department of Social Protection, with a judge examining each case individually.
“There is a minimum clearly below which money cannot be taken off a person.
“Anyone who is on a supplementary allowance of €186 per week, clearly no money can be taken from that person.,
“I think in many cases those on social welfare will be found not to have the means to pay.
“Every individual circumstance” will be examined by the courts, she said, with the court looking to assess if the individual can pay “some amount towards their debt,” Ms Fitzgerald said.
Less than half of all Irish Water bills have been paid thus far, with just a 46% payment rate having paid at the last count. The new Bill is seen by many as a tool retrieve the money of people unwilling to pay an Irish water Bill, but Ms Fitzgerald insisted the measures were also intended to aid small businesses looking to retrieve debts – rather than being “the big stick to make people pay”, as Breakfast host Chris Donoghue put it to her.
“Any economy has to have a range of opportunities for people to recover debt that is owed to them,” Ms Fitzgerald said.
The measures have faced strong opposition, with Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald saying the Bill shows the “contempt” the Government has for “tens of thousands of people who came onto the streets of Dublin and elsewhere, who have said to you directly that this austerity tax is about as popular as an oil spill along the Atlantic coast.”
The Bill will apply to debts between €500 and €4,000 – and includes bills to small businesses and sole traders. The Bill will not cover consumer debts owed to moneylenders or financial institutions.