Homeowners are now facing €7,000 bill for second property
Almost €9m has been collected this week in a last-minute rush of second-home tax payments - but authorities admit they have no idea how much is outstanding.
Five years after the introduction of the tax, there is still no final figure for how many houses are liable.
A partial amnesty will end at midnight tomorrow, meaning that from Monday people who still owe the 'Non-Principal Private Residence' (NPPR) charges will face a number of penalties, including a 50pc overall increase.
This will leave some property owners with a bill in excess of €7,000 for one single property. Reform Alliance Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames condemned the level of penalties as excessive and draconian.
"It is like equating the theft of an apple with serious crime. There is every chance someone convicted of serious crime would get a lesser penalty," Senator Healy-Eames said.
The NPPR charge, largely aimed at holiday homes and rental properties, was introduced in July 2009 and ran until 2013, when it was replaced by the local property tax. The flat-rate charge was fixed at €200 per year and was levied on all housing units which were not the owner's principal place of residence.
The second-home tax was administered by local councils supported by the councils' umbrella body, the Local Government Management Agency (LGMA). The new local property tax is now run by the Revenue and based on property value estimates, but LGMA and the councils are still collecting arrears of the original flat-rate tax.
Up to 360,000 second-homes were registered for the tax. But there has always been confusion about precisely how many bills remain unpaid.
"We estimate that tens of thousands remained outstanding when this arrears campaign started, but it has always been very difficult to say precisely how many," a spokeswoman for LGMA said.
In total the tax pulled in almost €434m in revenue over five years. On March 5 last the then-Environment Minister Phil Hogan announced a partial amnesty, open until August 31, with huge penalties for anyone who did not avail. The deal suspended the €20 per month fine for unpaid arrears from last March. But from tomorrow all penalties kick in again and someone who failed to pay over the five years would face a total bill of €7,230.
But the LGMA spokesperson said anyone in difficulty should consult their local council, which had discretion to deal with individuals. The LGMA ran a special advertising campaign in recent months to raise awareness of the issue.
The amnesty did generate a big response with two landlords, who each paid almost €93,000 arrears and penalties, among thousands who have paid over almost €13m in a backlog of second-home taxes in the first three months of its application.
One landlord paid €92,840 arrears, covering the years 2009-13, on a single property which was divided up into 22 rented flats.