Drivers who fail to pay their motor tax face automatic fines
DRIVERS could face automatic fines in the post for failing to pay their motor tax if a call to action by council bosses is heeded.
Motor tax is one of the biggest sources of finance for local authorities in Ireland and brought in €1.023bn last year.
But city and county managers have complained that a database that could help catch every motor tax cheat in the country was being underused because they had no legal authority to harness it to catch offenders.
They claimed there was a "systemic inefficiency" in the collection of motor tax and that it needed to be broadened beyond merely relying on garda checkpoints.
The County and City Managers Association (CCMA) highlighted the fact that the details of all untaxed cars and their owners were available from the National Vehicle and Driver File (NVDF) database held in Shannon, Co Clare.
But they said the job of catching motor tax cheats was "almost exclusively carried out by the gardai, usually by random checks on vehicles on the road without reference to the database" -- even though the names and car registrations of motorists who had not paid their motor tax were sent twice a week to the gardai from the NVDF database.
The managers claimed this was one of the main reasons why an estimated 8pc--10pc of motorists escaped without paying motor tax.
If the collection rate was increased by 10pc, it could provide a €100m boost for the Exchequer.
In Britain, the rate of motor tax evasion is up to 10 times lower (0.8pc) because there is a much tougher regime.
Their driver database is used to send out letters to warn motorists that they will receive automatic fines of £80 (€91) if they have not taxed their cars.
There are not only police checkpoints to detect untaxed cars -- but also clampers equipped with automatic number plate recognition systems in their vehicles.
There are no such measures in place here.
The Department of Transport confirmed that the NVDF sent out an initial "reminder" letter to motorists before their motor tax expires.
If they fail to pay within six weeks after their motor tax expires, they are sent another "final reminder" notice.
New legislation would be required before automatic fines could be issued through the post.
The Department of the Environment is currently carrying out a motor tax review.
But it did not respond to questions about whether it would change the legislation to allow for motorists who did not tax their cars to receive automatic fines via letters from the NVDF.
The CCMA submission about motor tax collection was made to the Local Government Efficiency Review, which aims to optimise revenue collection and savings.
A spokeswoman confirmed that it stood over all of the points made in the submission, which was originally made last year, but released to the Irish Independent by the Department of the Environment.
Labour TD Anne Ferris said she intended to raise the issue of automatic fines at the Dail's Public Accounts Committee, which is expanding its remit to examine revenue generating ideas as well as wasteful spending. But she said the idea of involving clampers was going too far.
A Garda spokesman said gardai carrying out checkpoints were able to check the motor tax status of all Irish-registered vehicles at any time.
There were around 69,000 fixed-charge notices issued to motorists for failing to display a current tax disc last year.
In 2009, around 73,000 such fixed-charge notices were issued.