THOUSANDS of homeowners living in unfinished developments will be hit with property tax bills from the summer.
People living in estates which were classed as "seriously problematic" just four months ago will be forced to pay the tax after the Department of the Environment decided they did not qualify for a waiver.
Last year, some 1,322 housing estates containing 43,000 homes were considered exempt from the household charge because essential works needed to be carried out.
The Government has now decided that just 421 estates, with about 5,100 households, will not have to pay the property tax.
Housing Minister Jan O'Sullivan defended the move, saying that essential works, including public lighting, water treatment systems, roads and open spaces, had been provided in many estates since last summer.
The reduction in those qualifying for a waiver showed that progress was being made in tackling the problem of unfinished developments, she said.
"It does show there has been an improvement in a significant number of estates. We've been keeping the pressure on the various interests including developers, NAMA and local authorities to get things done," she told the Irish Independent.
"Part of the figure (of 1,322 exempt housing developments) was made up of estates which had no occupied houses. It would have been disingenuous to have listed them as exempt. The others would be ones where work has been done.
"I have no reason, as minister, to have not presented accurate figures. We got the figures from local authorities. I have seen estates where a small amount of work was needed, which would take the entire estate out of the seriously problematic category. The ones still in the category are still the worse ones, and are still unresolved."
The tax is calculated on the value of the property and is self-assessed by the owner. Some 180,000 demand letters have already been sent.
But questions remain as to why so many homes are no longer deemed exempt, given that the Government has only made €5m available to local authorities to improve estates, while NAMA has spent €3m improving around 180 developments it controls.
The decision to take the additional thousands of homes into the property tax net was also defended by Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte, who insisted it was "fair".
But the move was criticised during Leader's Questions in the Dail by Fianna Fail finance spokesman Michael McGrath, who said that only one in eight of those who had a property tax exemption would keep it.
Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said households living in unfinished ghost estate and "building sites" had suffered significant stress.
Rebel Labour TD Colm Keaveney said many people had seen no improvement works carried out in their unfinished estates over the past year – yet were now expected to pay the tax.
"People are furious because the councils never came to fix the lights, the footpaths and the services. Pat Rabbitte said that work had been carried out. Show me the work," he said.
Separately, the Campaign Against Home and Water Taxes has announced a day of protests tomorrow, with demonstrations planned in Dublin, Kildare, Louth, Cork, Wicklow, Limerick, Kilkenny, Wexford, Waterford, Carlow, Galway and Laois.