THOUSANDS of motorists transferred ownership of their vehicles to avoid paying motor tax arrears.
Some 90,170 vehicles were re-registered with new owners last month, an increase of more than 16,000, or 22pc, on August, the Irish Independent has learned.
The changes were made before the introduction of tough new rules on October 1, aimed at cracking down on motor tax evasion, which costs the State some €55m a year.
These obliged owners of vehicles – including cars, tractors and motorbikes – who had never taxed them to pay arrears if they planned to use them on public roads. If they did not plan to use them, they had to be declared as off the road for a minimum of three months.
But thousands have availed of a loophole where they transferred ownership, meaning that neither they nor the new owner were liable for arrears.
Details from the National Vehicle Driver File show that 90,170 transfers of ownership were made in September – the highest rate in the last two years. The average monthly switching rate so far this year stands at 73,654.
The monthly figures include sales and trade-ins to motor dealers, who are obliged under law to register their ownership.
"The September 2013 returns show an increase over the norm and reflect ownerships registered in advance of the new motor tax measures which commenced on October 1, 2013," the Department of Transport said.
"The increase includes a significant number, approximately 8,500, of older, pre-1993 registered vehicles – most notably vintage or veteran vehicles – agricultural tractors and other machines."
The figures come after it emerged yesterday that more than 16,000 previously untaxed tractors appeared for the first time after a surge of registrations with motor tax offices across the State in September.
An additional 56,000 vehicles were registered in September – four times the number in August – which yielded the State some €20m in additional revenues.
The loss to the exchequer incurred by re-registered vehicles cannot be calculated, but is likely to run into millions of euro. But transferring ownership to avoid arrears is not against the law.