independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Revenue wanted homes tax deducted from child benefit

Joan Burton

THE Revenue wanted to deduct the property tax from child benefit -- but the proposal was shot down by the Social Protection Minister Joan Burton's department.

The move would have been hugely controversial, given that the €2bn annual child benefit payments are provided exclusively for children's needs.

But the Revenue settled for the power to deduct the property tax from a more limited range of social welfare payments, such as the old age pension and the carer's allowance.

This means that it will be unable to target child benefit in its New Year clampdown on the estimated 150,000 households who have still not paid the property tax.

The Irish Independent used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain copies of more than 180 emails sent and received by the key Revenue official involved in the creation of the property tax.

The Revenue was given the job of devising the property tax collection system after the disastrous household charge campaign. Four working groups involving officials from multiple government departments met regularly over five months.

Revenue local property tax manager Vivienne Dempsey co-ordinated the lengthy discussions across several departments.

But one of the key issues facing her and the Revenue was whether child benefit payments should be deductable for the property tax.

The agenda for the working group on deductions stated that discussions about the matter were ongoing between the Revenue and Ms Burton's Department of Social Protection (DSP).

"DSP confirm it's only stable schemes and not CB (child benefit). Are we sure? DSP to provide more info on why CB should be avoided. What else does DSP need?" it asked.

Ms Burton's department resisted the pressure to take property tax from child benefit payments. It flagged up its long-held concerns about whether the child benefit payment was legally owned by the child, rather than the parent who gets it into their bank account.

One Revenue official said in a later email that Ms Burton's department had "laid down a marker" that it would have to amend social welfare legislation to allow for such deductions.

"You'll be aware of the letter that DSP sent to the minister (Michael Noonan) while the expert group was deliberating about the problems they had with deduction at source," he wrote in an email to a fellow official.

PENSIONS

Documents show that Ms Burton's department also warned that social welfare customers could make claims for emergency social welfare assistance if their regular payments were deducted for the property tax.

The end result was that only a limited number of social welfare payments were allowed to be deducted for property tax.

These include the old age pension and the carer's allowance, but child benefit, dole payments and rent supplement were all ruled out.

A spokesman for Ms Burton confirmed that her department had been opposed to deducting the property tax from child benefit payments, adding: "Child benefit is paid for the benefit of the child."

Irish Independent

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