independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Charlie Weston: Withdrawing benefit now from those struggling with arrears is heartless

TAX officials are not given to sentiment.

They have to scrupulously collect the taxes due from everyone, with no fear or favour to any one group.

That is fair enough. But it doesn't mean that Revenue officials have to be heartless.

The change in policy that will now see tax officials denying mortgage tax relief to those who have been unable to make a payment on their mortgage for six months or more seems shocking in its callousness.

People who have made no home-loan payments for half a year are the very ones lying awake at night in fear of losing their homes.

Most are genuinely unable to meet their repayments.

Given that it is government policy not to have family homes repossessed, it seems strange that one arm of the State – the Revenue – is making a decision that will make matters worse for those in the greatest mortgage distress.

Of course, Revenue is within its rights and has the law on its side now that it has written to all the mortgage lenders telling them to take the tax relief off anyone who has not paid their mortgage for six months or more.

However, up to now, tax officials have not bothered to strip the relief off people in arrears.

The taxman's timing is lousy. Many finance experts also wonder if this new, stricter interpretation of the rules will be worth the hassle for all the money it will bring in.

Combine this with the introduction of the property tax and the game is likely to be up for many people who are in arrears.

The much-promised personal insolvency legislation will not be in place for a while yet, and while banks talk about problem mortgages, there is little evidence of real action.

Despite that, it seems the tax officials are determined to have their pound of flesh.

Irish Independent

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