Anti Water privatisation campaign kicks off…

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the water charge controversy is heating up (insert your favourite ‘hot water jokes’ here). The government has denied rumours that it is about to sell off the Water Service, currently part of the Department of the Environment. There are also plans to bring in tough measures against non payers. Tonight a Tap Tax campaign is meeting at the City Hall in Belfast.Speaking on behalf of ICTU, NIPSA General Secretary John Corey will “tell the meeting that Government Ministers had a clear agenda to implement water charges for the primary purpose of selling it off to private corporations”.

“If the water service is sold off as this Government is clearly planning, then the main beneficiaries will not be the people of Northern Ireland but private shareholders of multi-nationals that will seize on the opportunity of profiting at all our expense. Today all of us are stakeholders in the water service. It is not for sale and we do not wish our Water Service to levy bills on every household.

As the owners we can defend our public service. We can stop the privatisation. We can do it by not paying twice for what we have paid for already.

And make no mistake about our position. The trade union movement in Northern Ireland, representing 250,000 workers and their families have decided democratically to back a ‘refuse to pay’ campaign. If the Government think that they can browbeat the public in Northern Ireland to pay these water charges, or mislead the people with false information on charges they are far mistaken.

We don’t need further consultation exercises. The way for the people to let their opinion be known is to back non payment. By withholding our water payments, the people will also be saying NO to privatisation. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, ‘Don’t Pay Twice, It’s Alright’.

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  • McVicker family

    Alex Maskey was an absolute disgrace on the matter, what a little weasel he is turning out to be.
    This little hitler is ready and willing to be a cheerleader for the government on the issue.
    Not one more single vote will leave our house for Maskey and his water-bill loving party ever again, thats five votes less for the money lovers of S/F

    I was told years ago that this would happen and I closed my ears because I thought it was just anti leadership lies coming from fools, now i’m the foolish one, but MY EARS ARE OPEN NOW!!!!!!

    (i hope i have stayed inside the rules thx)

  • I would have thought that the future political direction taken by Northern Ireland was pretty much the “real world” Mick. Or do you think “water-charges” operate in a politically neutral environment?

  • Rory

    “The government has denied rumours that it is about to sell off the Water Service…”

    Well that’s all the confirmation we need that privatisation goes full-steam ahead. I really do hope that the ICTU can wage an effective resistance against this act of piracy.

    It is quite obscene that the provision of such an essential bounty of nature should be hijacked by unscrupulous profiteers in yet another futile attempt to satisfy their insatiable greed. One of those social crimes where capital punishment might be a fitting sanction but where success in its commission is more likely to be rewarded with a knighthood to embellish the booty.

    Certainly if the McVicker Family’s report that Alex Maskey and Sinn Fein are supporting privatisation is correct I would be appalled and would hope that they would suffer the wrath of the populace accordingly.

  • gram

    There seem to be two issues here. First of all the introduction of a tap tax and secondly the potential privatisation of the water service. Does this campaign cover both issues?

    How do people propose we update the water system without the introduction of some sort of tax?

    The privatisation issue (while important) is a smokescreen for people who don’t want to pay the tax.

  • dodrade

    Newton Emerson’s piece in the Irish News today on this issue is quite interesting, he seems to think a mass sustained non payment campaign could succeed in stopping privatisation and that non payees hold all the legal cards, is he right?

  • Quaysider

    NIPSA says they’ve taken legal advice and apparently there’s nothing the courts can do to you if you refuse to pay up. That’s why they’re telling their members not to bother.
    Basically I think all they can really do to you is credit-blacklisting, which isn’t going to make much difference to ‘rock bottoms’ who can’t credit anyway or much difference to ‘affluent achievers’ who’ll already have mortgages and credit cards and can borrow all they like.
    This whole thing is starting to look more and more like a busted flush (excuse the pun.)

  • miss fitz


    The reality is that if people mount up charges to the water company over £750 and refuse to pay, they can be adjudicated bankrupt. The Rate Collection Agency took this stand about 3 years ago and vigorously bankrupted people. I personally worked on behalf of 3 families who lost their homes as a result of this. WHile the information that this is not a crime and witholding payment is not punishable by this means, I think people should know the big picture.

    I should add that the RCA have now softened their approach, although I did get another case of bankruptcy taken by the RCA earlier this week.

    Rory, I think the point about this is not just the water we drink (which by the way is not as high quality as GB), but the totality of services that we enjoy through water service, ie tap water as well as drains and sewage.

    There may be all sorts of arguments about the unfairness of this, but if we want the product we need to pay for it. I dont want to pay, but I also dont want to lose my home

  • Quaysider

    Ah yes Miss Fitz, but that’s rates, and non-payment of rates is a criminal offence, which is why the courts can order bankruptcy proceedings.
    This doesn’t apply with the water charge, which is only a civil liability, hence the report by the NIPSA solicitor.

    There are a few people around whipping up fear over this on purpose – don’t add to it by accident.

  • miss fitz

    Sorry, you are wrong on this one.
    It doesnt matter who you owe money to, be it a credit card, rates agency or bank. If you are in debt of more than £750 you can be adjudicated bankrupt. It really really doesnt matter who the creditor is.

    The more important issue is what direction the water service will wnat to follow in this matter. I am not stoking fears, simply telling what is a matter of record. The RCA—- AS A CREDITOR—- opted to bakrupt people. Any creditor is so entitled but you will find different ones taking different actions depending on their debt management strategy. For instance, many of the banks will now go for orders charging land, while others go through the Courts, EJO and enforcement,

    When you talk about misinformation, what annoys me is some of the stuff that is being passed off at the moment. For instance, the BBC reported that the Water Service debt management agency cited people based on their ‘credit history’. In fact, these decisions are going to be made based on payment history and you do not need a credit check to get your water.

    I have thought about this one, and I have to say, I will be paying my water bill when it comes. I will have a heavy heart, and I will be annoyed, but I feel that it is a requirement for the kind of services we will require takingus to the future

  • miss fitz

    For information purposes, this is taken from the DETI Insolvency service site.

    30-09-2004] How do I prove to the High Court that the debtor cannot pay his/her debts?
    The High Court will regard an individual as being unable to pay his/her debts if either of the following occurs:

    A creditor who is owed more than £750 serves a ‘statutory demand’ for the money due and it is not paid or secured (for example, by a guarantee to provide something else of the same value); or a settlement is not agreed, within 21 days, and the debtor has not applied for the statutory demand to be set aside.

    You can get a statutory demand from the Bankruptcy and Chancery Office at the High Court or from the forms section of our website. The forms for the statutory demand are:

    Form 6.01 – to be used for a debt for a specific amount which is payable now;
    Form 6.02 – to be used for a debt of a specific amount which is payable now following a judgment or order of court;
    Form 6.03 – to be used for a debt that is payable in the future.

    The completed form must usually be served on the individual in person. The creditor must have proof of service, so it is usual to employ a process server to carry out this function (these are listed in Yellow Pages under ‘detective agencies’). The High Court is not involved in the issuing of statutory demands, so no court fee is payable.

  • miss fitz

    Sorry to come back on this one again, but Quaysider, I think the point you are making is correct in one aspect. It is not an offence to refuse to pay the bill and no direct action can be taken on the actual point of non-payment.

    My specialty is money advice, and from what I can see, the issue we will need to look at is not the act of non-payment, but the collection of the debt, which I see as a separate action with a different set of outcomes.

    One final point, there is no such thing as a ‘black list’. People cannot be ‘blacklisted’ but they may have their non payment recorded on their credit file with equifax, experian or other. Again, this will be dependant on the course of action determined by the water service.

    In GB, most of the water companies have set up funds to help people who run into financial trouble. If a genuine need is shown, an application can be made and assistance given to clear arrears.

  • Quaysider

    Thanks for the info, Miss Fitz. I’m not a legal expert and am only going by the assurances of Nipsa, who seem convinced on legal advice that non-payment will have no serious repercussions (they’ve said they would not advise it otherwise).

    Your point on debt collection vs non-payment is very interesting because it seems that the NIO have shot themselves in the foot over their cynical stepped introduction of the charge (with jacked up rates to compensate). By phasing the water charge in, they’ve ensured that few householders will reach the required £750 level of debt until at least the fourth year of charging. I think that’s long enough to see how the non-payment campaign pans out. It also means that a non-payment campaign can certainly succeed. Four years of significant defaulting would be enough to scare off any potential private operator.

    I’m sorry to hear that you’re paying the charge. I certainly won’t be. I agree that we have to pay to modernise and run the system but privatisation won’t achieve that. The operator will simply run the system down over the term of their contract than do a runner. Amusingly, the first of those private water contracts will begin expiring in England in a couple of years – which should provide a further demonstration of what a terrible idea this is, if NI is even still considering it by then.

  • missfitz17


    I think you are skipping a step. The next phase for the Water Service is a GoCo, and at this exact point in time, there dont appear to be plans for privatisation.

    Mark Durkin was the person who raised this the other day in Westminster, and I have to say he wasnt able to prove his point at all. He said he saw ’emails’ that said the plans were to privatise, but he didnt sound too certain by the end of the debate and was rather muted toward the end on it. He may have been protecting a source, or he may have been wondering if the source was correct.

    A GoCo is not a privatised company, it is an agency. We have dozens of agencies in the civil service and this would be another one.

    Personally, I think NIPSA have a tendency to fight the wrong battles. In the case of this GoCo, what will happen to the terms and conditions of the hundreds of industrial workers who make a bare living at the moment? Who is fighting their battle?

    My opinion stands that this is an inevitable process of change and all the yapping in the world aint going to change it. Indeed, I remember writing on Slugger yonks and yonks ago that the only certain way of getting stormont back was to ensure water charges were a done deal. Its unpopular, but I dont see any way back from it

  • Quaysider

    I don’t understand your confusion on this point, Miss Fitz. The water service might be a GoCo (although even this confuses its legal status in terms of non-payment) but Crystal Alliance, which will be issueing the bills, is certainly a private company.

  • foreign correspondent

    How long before they privatize the air and start charging per litre of oxygen? Will ye all just shrug and then grin and bear that, too.
    Northern Ireland is a joke. A bad one.

  • miss fitz

    I am not a bit confused. Crystal Alliance is nothing more than a company to facilitate the collection of money and potentially debt for the Water Company of Northern Ireland

    I did a little searching this morning about water and charging and foreign correspondent, you couldnt be more wrong. This seems to be an issue that crops up globally, indeed I was a bit stunned when I saw how critical an issue it is.

    One of the interesting things I read was that one of the key reasons for charging for water is to ensure an adequate supply for all people. It seems that an aspiration for metering charges is that the first x number of litres is supplied very cheaply, thus ensuring that all people haev access to the neccesary amount of water. I dont know if this is envisaged here, but it would be a good question to ask

  • Quaysider

    Well I think I’ll have to wait and see what more comes out from the non-payment campaign about this. NIPSA has been quite specific but that’s really all there is to go on for now.
    But water privatisation is always a disaster – it has never worked, anywhere.

  • Rory

    Miss Fitz,

    I think you completely misunderstand my position. I am not at all opposed to people fairly sharing the cost of the supply and maintenance of a clean, reliable water service (with allowances made for those on low incomes), it is profiteering by having sole control of that supply that I am adamantly opposed to.

    I am opposd to it purely as a matter of principle but even on a purely practical level you may find as in Britain that the cost of service absolutely skyrockets while delivery of service and quality of product worsens rather than improves although the argument given for privatisation was that investment was necessary to maintain, expand and improve the service, the same reason given every year for the increase in charges. Instead, of course, as predicted, the additional revenue is simply scoffed up and splurged out in dividends to the investors who have never even had risk at any time. Corrupt, rotten, criminal and absolutely bloody wicked. Hanging’s too good for the greedy scheming thugs who trade in human necessity for profit.

  • missfitz

    I have raised this issue today on several levels, and it being studied very carefully to see if my points are valid. Some of the feedback I am getting already within the money advice sector here is that my points are valid. Indeed, a colleague drew my attention to a meeting we attended with the Enforcement of Judgements Office here who are anticipating the need to enforce judgements. (We have the EJO instead of a bailiff system)

    I have also trawled the NIPSA site for a breakdown of the legal advice but cannot seem to find that piece of information.

    The anti racist network came out with a statement today and it appears that the message here is that if 250000 people refuse to pay water rates it will never go through the Courts, or will take a century to go through the Courts

    All I am saying is that in my experience, the Courts manage quite well, and these judegements could be turned out 50 a day.

    I would really like to see where NIPSA have made their decision on this and if they have really factored into account the points I have been making.

    Rory- I agree with you in principle on all of those points you have made. More later

  • Quaysider

    Keep us posted Miss Fitz, this is a damn sight more interesting that all that Stormont bollócks 🙂

  • miss fitz

    I try not to mix my work with anything in the blogosphere, but this one is very important to me. As you can see, part of what I do involves money advice for people in financial difficulty, and I am taking this dead seriously.

    As I mentioned, several of my colleagues appear to agree with me, although nothing offical will be issued just yet. We are going to do a little more work on it, and perhaps talk to some of the interested parties.

    I guess QS, this is the real stuff, the stuff we all have to live with while the panto is going on up the Hill.

  • Patrique

    Does Miss Fitz really believe that private companies are investing in this to improve services? You may know some law, but absolutely nothing about capitalism, and privatisation.

    And they are not going to take 200,000 people to court, or bankrupt them. That would merely bankrupt the private company.