Councillors have clashed with Carrick Town Council management over a clause in the local authority’s Tenant Handbook that prohibits its tenants from getting a gas meter installed to help with household budgeting.
Cllr Sylvia Cooney-Sheehan slammed the handbook instruction as “disgraceful” and “morally wrong” during a heated debate at last week’s Council meeting and declared she would seek legal advice when she was informed elected councillors hadn’t any power to change its contents.
The Fianna Fail member and several other councillors pressed council officials to delete from the handbook the sentence stating that card type gas meters were not allowed in Carrick Town Council homes.
They argued that tenants should have the choice to install such a meter if they wished to help them with paying their gas bills.
Cllr Cooney-Sheehan said she couldn’t support a provision that prevented the Council helping people in financial difficulty to manage their gas bills better.
Town Clerk Michael O’Brien explained the Council hadn’t any issue with the installation of gas meters as long as Bord Gais foots the cost of removing them.
The Council didn’t want to be left liable to pay the estimated E200 to E300 it cost to remove one from a house when a new tenant moved in and didn’t want the meter.
He said the Council wrote to Bord Gais a year ago requesting it to foot the cost of removing unwanted meters but never received a response.
Cllr Cooney-Sheehan responded that only a very small number of council tenants moved from their homes and Cllr Sarah Dunne agreed.
“At the end of the day what is more important, the person being able to pay and heat their home or is it more important for us to save a little bit of money here and there,” asked Cllr Dunne.
Mayor of Carrick-on-Suir Cllr Liam Walsh said he had read reports of people having their gas cut off because they were unable to pay and he believed if they were allowed to have a meter installed it would ease the burden of paying. He pointed out that the Money Advice & Budgeting Service was referring its clients to Bord Gais to get meters installed.
Mr O’Brien pointed out that a lot of the housing applications the Council received were from existing council tenants, who wished to move from a two bedroom to a three bedroom residence. He explained that the estimated E300 it cost for the Council to pay to remove a meter was money taken from the Council’s house maintenance budget.
Cllr Cooney-Sheehan suggested if a new tenant didn’t want to retain the gas meter they should pay to take it out.
But Mr O’Brien argued that this solution wasn’t fair to those tenants either. The Council accepted that tenants shouldn’t have to have a meter to manage their gas bills as it can be an inconvenience.
When Cllr Cooney-Sheehan asked if the clause was going to be removed from the handbook, Mr O’Brien replied no. He said councillors were just being alerted about the change to the handbook. They didn’t have a say in relation to this issue.
Cllr Cooney-Sheehan declared that councillors should take a stand on this and asked if the Department of Environment was behind this policy. Mr O’Brien said no it came from the Council.
Cllr Cooney-Sheehan wondered if other councils have allowed this to happen before adding: “At this stage I have to seek legal advice. This Council, to me, is very unfair and unjust in implementing something that the councillors have no input into.”
She continued: “I want this taken away. You are giving people who are financially strapped no choice. That is not what we are here for. We have the highest unemployment rate (in South Tipperary), we should be doing our best to help the people of Carrick-on-Suir.”
Independent Cllr Pierce O’Loughlin, who agreed the Council shouldn’t have to pay to remove gas meters, proposed a letter be sent to Bord Gais again to request it to remove them for free while Cllrs Patsy Fitzgerald and Liam Walsh called on Council management to amend the wording of the paragraph about gas meters in the handbook.
Mr O’Brien agreed to take a look the issue again but stressed he wasn’t giving any commitments. “I feel quite strongly why should the Town Council pay for something another company has installed,” he said.