Householders will face an annual charge of up to €40 a year over 20 years to cover the cost of water meters, it has been reported.

That charge of €39 would apply regardless of how much water was used.

The Irish Times reports that the charge will be imposed to cover the cost of insalling meters in 1m homes and could be introduced as early as 2014.

Ministers are due to sign off on the State body that will take over responsibility for water services later this morning.

Bord na Móna and Bord Gáis are in contention, with the latter tipped by some observers to be the preferred choice.

There has been controversy over the issue since it emerged that householders would have to pay for the meters that will determine the bills they will face for domestic water supplies.

A Government spokesman insisted last night that there would be no upfront bills for the devices, and that in any event charges would not be levied until 2014.

But he added that the political hare was already off and running since the weekend confirmation that householders would have to pay several hundred euro for the meters.

The Opposition branded it a communications fiasco.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore insisted that no decision had been taken just as Taoiseach Enda Kenny was confirming that there would be a charge.