Sunday 25 September 2016

Allison Bray: Before you even open your eyes, the taxman has his hand in your pocket

We are being ravaged by a raft of government taxes, hidden charges and questionable price hikes, writes Allison Bray

Published 31/01/2016 | 02:30

We're getting screwed before we even get out of bed in the morning, ravaged by a raft of government taxes, stealth taxes, hidden charges and questionable price hikes on everyday necessities, an analysis of the cost of living reveals.

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Despite the plummeting price of oil and a 40pc drop in the average wholesale price of fuel in January, none of Ireland's eight energy suppliers has passed on the savings to their loyal customers, even though the State Commission for Energy Regulation has the power to order them to do so.

That means we are paying above the odds even while we sleep and before the boiler switches on in the morning and the electric alarm clock sounds the start of yet another wallet-depleting day.

And that's on top of paying 13.5pc VAT on domestic bills and carbon tax as well as the Public Service Obligation Levy which is tacked on to all electricity bills.

If you own your own house, expect to fork out hundreds of euro a year in Local Property Taxes as well as a 3pc government levy on house insurance.

Turn on the shower, flush the toilet and put on the kettle for a cup of tea and it will cost the average family €160 in water charges this year.

Light a cigarette and watch as €8.62 of the €10.50 you paid for a pack of 20 goes up in smoke - to the Exchequer.

Put out the bins and dish out anywhere between €180 to over €300 a year in charges that are likely to rise when the environment department's new 'Pay by Weight' diktat comes into effect on July 1.

Drop the pre-school kids off at a creche and say goodbye to around €1,000 a month to care for a baby, or up to €1,884 for two children in Dublin.

If you have school-age children, you will be paying an average of €365 per senior infant child a year for school clothing, footwear, books, classroom resources and voluntary contributions to the school. That's despite the fact that education is technically free, according to the Barnardos 2015 School Costs Survey.

If you have older children, expect to pay around €390 for a child in fourth class and a whopping €785 per first-year secondary student. If you have a college-age child, you will fork out another €3,000 a year in annual student fees, although tuition itself is free.

If you drive to work you can say goodbye to 71c on each €1 you spend on petrol, which goes directly into the pockets of the Exchequer in various taxes.

As worldwide oil prices plummet, the price of fuel in Ireland remains among the highest in the world due to a complex web of taxes upon taxes that netted the Exchequer more than €2.3bn last year alone.

At the current average price of €1.265 a litre, the cost of petrol itself is a mere 36.6c - including the retailers' cut of about 4c and 8c that goes to the supplier.

The rest comprises of taxes, including the 23pc VAT which is a tax on other taxes, including Excise Duty, Carbon Tax and the National Oil Reserve Agency (NORA) levy.

But as the price of fuel comes down, it's not just motorists who are being ripped off at the pumps by the taxman, according to the Consumers Association of Ireland (CAI).

"Even if you never owned a car in your life, it's costing you money," CAI spokesman Dermott Jewell said of the cost to transport everything from people to food and consumer goods around the country.

Before you even get into your car, you will be subject to annual motor taxes ranging between €120 and €2,350 depending on the emissions. You will also have to fork our €55 for a National Car Test or NCT for cars that are four years old or older. If you're driving a car that is 10 years old or older, you must get an annual NCT. If not, it's once every two years. There is also a €28 re-test levy for cars that fail the test.

If you use the M50 to commute to and from work, you will pay tolls costing anywhere between €2.10 to €3.10 per car journey, or between €5.30 to €6.30 per journey for trucks or articulated vehicles. Add another €3 each way if you forget to pay by 8pm the following day, which quickly ratchets up to €41 each way if you haven't paid within a fortnight, or a whopping €103 if it's left unpaid for 56 days.

If you take public transport to work, you will be digging deeper into your pockets this year after the National Transport Authority approved a raft of fare increases effective December 1, 2015.

Dublin Bus passengers are now paying up to 15pc - or an average of €70 annually - more for bus fares, while fares for Luas passengers went up by an average of €60 a year.

Commuters using Irish Rail are paying 3pc more for their monthly and annual fares, while those using three- to seven-day passes are paying 4pc more, and those using Short Hop train tickets are paying 4.2pc more.

Passengers on Bus Eireann are also paying between 1.5pc and 5pc more this year, depending on the route.

And by the time you get to work, the taxman is already busy at work, taking up to 52pc of your pay cheque, including the controversial Universal Social Charge.

If you pop out at lunch to pay a bill using regular post, it will cost two cent more to post a letter nationally and five cent more to send a letter overseas, on top of whatever exorbitant charges your bank will levy for processing cheques. The taxman will also take 50c on every cheque you write in stamp duty.

If you use an ATM, the Exchequer will get 12c every time you use it to a maximum of €5 - the amount the Government took out of your bank account each year until it "scrapped" the €5 Stamp Duty charged on all debit and bank cards in the last budget.

If you have enough money left over to actually buy something for yourself or your family, the Government will usually take 23pc in the standard rate of VAT, one of the highest sales taxes in all 28 member states of the EU, but still marginally below the whopping 27pc VAT charged in Hungary. If you're suffering from a mid-afternoon slump and get a bar of chocolate from the vending machine, 9pc of the €1 you spent on that progressively shrinking Mars or Snickers bar will also go to the Exchequer, although he would get the full 23pc VAT if that same chocolate bar was bought in a shop.

If you treat yourself to a drink in the pub after work, you are effectively buying a round for the taxman who will take around €1.43 for every pint and over €5 on a bottle of wine priced at €10.

Even if you're retired, the taxman was still hot on your heels last year and took a 0.15pc slice of your retirement savings in the form of a levy on private pension funds that expires this year.

If all of this is leaving you feeling stressed and unwell, it will cost an average of €55 per visit to see your GP if you don't have a medical card after the Government last year scrapped its promises of universal health care.

It will cost you around €30 for a basic blood test to confirm that the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your blood are through the roof. If you have private health insurance, you will have seen your premiums increase by 50pc over the past three years, getting tax relief on just €1,000 per adult and €500 per child.

If you require a prescription, you will pay an additional €2.50 per item in taxes, up from 50c, while threshold for a rebate under the state drugs repayment scheme has increased from €132 a month to €144 monthly.

Even if you plan a quiet night in with a glass of wine in front of the telly to de-stress after a long day, the taxman will still be lurking in your sitting room.

Under health minister Leo Varadkar's controversial plans to introduce Minimum Unit Pricing this year on alcohol to curb Ireland's dangerously high alcohol consumption, a bottle of wine will cost a minimum of about €8.50 at the local supermarket. That's after the Government added a €1 tax on to a bottle of wine in 2014, making the €3.19 excise duty on wine here the highest in Europe. You will also have to fork out €160 a year for a TV licence fee on top of whatever fees your satellite or digital provider charges - along with VAT - to enable you to fast forward through the increasingly long and frequent ad breaks from our national broadcaster and others.

If you live in a rural area or otherwise have a septic tank, the taxman will be hovering outside the loo as you brush your teeth, wash your face and flush the toilet before bed. And as of 2012, householders with septic tanks must pay a €50 once-off "registration fee" in order to "protect ground and surface water quality from the risks posed by systems that are not working properly", according to the Citizens Information website.

But if you manage to make it to bed without cracking up, you will finally have the last laugh of the day, smug in the knowledge that at least the taxman isn't getting a cent from that mindfulness book you are reading to switch off from yet another day in paradise, unless you're too stressed to concentrate and opt for an audio version, which is taxed at the full rate.

How revenue collects money by stealth

Property tax on 1.6m residential homes averages €300 with higher bills in Dublin and other urban areas.

Water charges of €160 for a single person and €260 for two or more people.

Health insurers are paying more to use public hospitals. That's a huge factor in the 50pc increase in medical insurance premiums in the last three years.

Tax Relief for Medical Insurance premiums has been restricted to the first €1,000 (per adult) and the first €500 per child insured.

The threshold for the state drugs repayment scheme was increased from €132 a month to €144. Prescription charges have gone up from 50c per item to €2.50.

An average 10pc increase in motor tax in 2013 and further increases introduced in 2014.

Cash fares on Irish Rail, DART and Bus Eireann went up an average 8pc in 2014 on top of double digit increases in the last year.

Carbon tax imposed on coal, turf and heating oil adds €2.50 to a 40kg bag of coal and 50c to a bale of briquettes. Households burning two bags of coal a week for six months, pay an extra €130.

The collapse of Quinn Insurance meant a levy of 2pc was imposed on all home and motor insurance policies from 2012. The measure could be in place for 15 years. It adds around €15 a year to the cost of insuring a home and one car.

Excise duty was raised on beer, wine and spirits in Budget 2014.

Stamp duty on cheques has gone from 30c per cheque to 50c.

Tax relief on service charges have now been abolished.

Septic tank charges have now been introduced.

Waivers for refuse collection have largely been abolished due to privatisation.

The Student Contribution Charge for third level have increased from €2,000 to €3,000.

Sunday Independent

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