THOUSANDS of homeowners who refuse to pay the controversial €100 household charge will not be pursued until at least October, the Irish Independent has learnt.
This is because there is no central computer system in place clearly identifying the owners of properties liable for the levy.
Instead, the Government will have to rely on a number of different databases, which are not linked, before a dedicated computer system is developed. Those include records held by the ESB, Revenue Commissioners, the landlords register and the Department of Social Protection.
The Government was yesterday forced to ask private companies to develop a system to track down offenders -- just 10 days before the crucial payment deadline expires.
But prospective bidders for the contract have been told the system will not go live until October.
Although there are a number of databases available not all can be used because they do not clearly identify the property owner, only the customer.
The move raises major questions as to why a system collating a central database of every property owner in the State was not put in place months ago.
The Programme for Government published last March said a tax on households would be introduced, and it was formally announced in December's Budget. But now the Coalition is under intense pressure to avoid a shambolic situation where people who refuse to pay cannot be traced.
The Local Government Management Agency (LGMA), responsible for collecting the charge, has now asked companies to develop a system that can match the names and addresses of properties against a database of utility bills, tax returns and social welfare payments.
This will allow them to identify people who receive state payments or utility bills at home and compare them against a database of people who have paid the levy.
The Government is concerned that in the absence of a definitive list of property owners, people who rent their homes may be billed incorrectly and penalised mistakenly.
Homeowners have until March 31 to pay before incurring penalties.
A spokesman for the Department of the Environment last night insisted that people who refused to pay would be pursued after the deadline expired.
However, he admitted the computer system identifying every homeowner in the State would not be available until later this year.
"The LGMA has sought tenders for the provision of data integration services. This is an enhancement to the current data-matching capabilities. This is the definitive collection system. It will cleanse the data so there's no duplication to make sure we have the details correct."
But the Government has insisted the deadline will not be extended, despite the low payment rate. Hitting out at TDs and campaigners who are opposing the charge, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said it had to be paid to fund local services.
Yesterday Donegal County Council became the latest local authority to warn that services would be cut if the money was not collected.But new rules could mean that people who are fined for refusing to pay the levy may have their wages or social welfare payments docked at source.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter is to bring in additional measure to allow for small amounts of money to be taken from wages or social welfare to facilitate the payment of fines.
Non-payment of the charge could result in fines of up to €2,500.
Lise Hand: p 27 Martina Devlin