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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 March 2007, 12:22 GMT
Water charge 'scrapped for year'
Dripping tap
The water charges could be postponed
The introduction of water charges in Northern Ireland will be postponed for a year - if devolution returns next week, a union has said.

The GMB public service union said Secretary of State Peter Hain made the pledge during a meeting.

Eamonn Coy of the union said Mr Hain promised to fund postponing the move.

"We told the secretary of state that people were not convinced that they are not paying for the same service twice," he said.

"We told him that the feeling is widespread that the way the charge is levied is unfair and that the introduction of the charge will give rise to hardship and the measures to alleviate hardship are not adequate."

A spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Office said that if there is devolution on 26 March "water charges will become a matter for the assembly".

The new charging system, linked to the value of homes, starts in April.

The system - to be phased in over three years - is being introduced because the government wants water and sewerage services in Northern Ireland to become self-financing.

But the decision has proved highly controversial - with critics arguing that the government has not justified the soaring bills.

Northern Ireland's consumer council took the government to court over the issue.

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