Irish Water and Unsent Application Packs

There seems to be hundreds , possibly thousands , of homes that have not been sent an “application pack” by Irish Water .  (All the forms were due out by October 6th.)
We are seeing daily  queries about missing forms sent via Twitter to Irish Water –  and there are probably many more people who are phoning them to ask why no form was sent. (With many  giving up after waiting ages to get through on the phones)

Missing Addresses

If a form has not been sent out by Irish Water – it is probably not just a simple matter of sending out a blank form to an address for completion.
Each form sent has to be linked to a specific location and postal address on a database (Using a pre-printed application number and a PIN.)
Irish Water have had to try to build a database of all the homes in the country  before sending out these forms – so if your home is not on their database you will not have recieved a form.

The Irish Water database will not be  just a  list of addresses – it will need to  be a database that stores  the exact geographic house locations as well as the postal address. This is not as simple as it sounds. They have also tried to match owners/occupiers names from the LPT system as well as the PRTB data.

There is another national address database which is  owned and maintained by An Post called the Geo Directory. This Geo Directory  is supposed to have all the buildings in  the country on it   – with a postal address and a geo-location code. Irish Water have access to this database – and it would probably have been the starting point for their metering project and customer billing database.

The problem they have is to try and match the addresses and names  from these various sources , remove duplicates and also cater for separate apartments within  blocks . The Geo Directory may have a building location – but not the addresses of each apartment in a building.
Postcodes are due to be introduced in 2015 – and maybe Irish Water’s job would be easier if postcodes were already in place.

Why wasn’t it a Problem For Property Tax ?

Property Tax are not too bothered about exactly where a house is. If Joe Bloggs gives an address and has a PPS number they will accept a registration and will accept his payment. LPT will not have to link that address to a specific water meter location at some stage – but Irish Water do. LPT just have to possibly send a letter out every year – and they can usually rely on the postman to find the house if the  address is not 100%  unique or 100% accurate.

It is estimated that 40% of rural addresses in Ireland are not unique. In rural areas it is common for several  homes to have the same address – usually a townland name in a village. The letters usually get delivered correctly because of the name printed on them.

To a computer program – a slightly different address is just a different address.
To a computer program – two houses with the exact same address looks like a duplicate entry – but it could be two separate houses in a rural village.  The potential for problems is massive.

ESB Networks  seem to have managed to allocate every house in Ireland a unique MPRN number – and it is a fair assumption to make that almost all homes in the country  have an electricity supply and will be on the ESB database.
We can only hope there were some good reasons why  Irish Water  did no,t or could not use property  information  from ESB as a starting  point. Maybe it just wasn’t compatible? Maybe there were data protection issues?

Creating an accurate database of all the homes in Ireland is a major exercise – not one that should be rushed.  Maybe the short timescale for implementation of the water charges didn’t help – but with all the money sspent on coonsultants and IT expertise – you would expect it to have gone better than it has.
A mis-match or error  rate of 1% would not be at all surprising.  One percent of all the 2 million properties – is 20,000. If the error/mismatch rate is as high as 3% there would be  60,000 missing or incorrect properties. It could be more.

The “National Forum on Addressing Functionality” when writing about unique addresses in Ireland estimated that “Initial matching by automated tools can be poor at an average of 50 -60%. Specialist and manual matching techniques can increase the matching rate to around 90%

If the matching rate has only been 90% for Irish Water – then there could be as many as 200,000 properties not on their database. There could also be some duplicates .

People are getting frustrated when they contact Irish Water to say that a form has not been recieved  and still nothing gets sent. But as far as Irish Water’s database is concerned – that house doesn’t exist. It has to first have it’s excact location confirmed and the co-ordinates and address details entered on the database before any forms can be sent.
In some cases people are being asked to call in because Irish Water staff need to ask specific questions about the property so they can find it on a map.  It might even require a site visit to confirm.

Some people are worried that they will be penalised for late returns or will miss out on free allowances. The  deadline for forms to be returned has been extended to Nov 30th  (was Oct 31st )  . There has always been the option (not made very public) that allowances can be backdated up to 60 days.
We can only assume that Irish Water will not be as strict on backdating in the case of people who were late getting a form sent out.