Thursday 23 November 2017

First-time buyers must stay five years to get full tax rebate

Simon Coveney. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
Simon Coveney. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

First-time buyers who benefit from the new Help-to-Buy tax rebate will have to repay some of the money if they move home within five years.

Revenue will be given the power to chase down buyers who leave their newly built home after one year for the full amount of their grant.

Somebody who vacates within two years must repay 80pc of their State aid, with a tapered drop each year until year five when the repayment rate would be 20pc.

It comes as changes to the qualification process made in the Finance Bill mean the €50m set aside on Budget Day for the scheme may not now be enough.

And both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are digging their heels in on the thresholds at which a person would no longer be able to access the tax rebate. The row could create weeks of uncertainty.

Housing Minister Simon Coveney said yesterday that he still wants first-time buyers spending up to €600,000 to qualify for the grant.

However, Fianna Fáil's Barry Cowen said he will "continue to fight" for the qualifying threshold to be capped at €400,000.

He told the Irish Independent: "They need to come up with meaningful examples of why it needs to be that high. There is absolutely no fact-based evidence for why it needs to be €600,000."

Under the scheme, a first-time buyer can get a tax rebate worth 5pc of a new home up to a maximum State payment of €20,000.

Mr Coveney has rejected claims that giving support to a first-time buyer spending €600,000 amounts to a 'mansion grant'.

"At the moment the threshold is there for good reason to make sure that people who buy a property above €400,000 but within reason don't fall off a cliff and get nothing as regards first-time buyer support," he said.

The minister said there would no "major changes" to the detail published in the Finance Bill.

But Mr Cowen said Fianna Fáil will be placing an amendment to the Bill when it reaches committee stage in the Dáil in the coming weeks.

"If he accepts our amendment it'll be all the quicker and easier to resolve this. Basically we want to ensure the €50m for this scheme goes to the right people."

Mr Coveney also confirmed yesterday that changes to the scheme at the request of the Central Bank will open it up to more people.

Central Bank officials advised Finance Minister Michael Noonan to change qualification rules relating to how much a buyer must borrow.

On Budget Day, Mr Noonan said those buying a house would need to get a mortgage worth 80pc of the value of the house.

However, the Central Bank informed the Department of Finance that the average first-time buyer takes out a mortgage with a loan to value (LTV) ratio of 78.7pc.

This means the majority of house hunters would have been excluded from the plan.

The threshold has now been lowered to an LTV ratio of 70pc.

"That will bring more people into the opportunity of availing of the grant and it'll ensure that people aren't effectively over-borrowing in respect of their own capacity to borrow in order to try to qualify by getting to 80pc of the value," Mr Coveney said.

The Department of Finance was unable to say last night what additional cost would be created by the change.

Mr Coveney also denied Opposition claims that the change shows the Central Bank was not on board with the detail of the scheme as had been claimed by Mr Noonan on Budget Day.

But Mr Cowen said: "It's more proof of the fact that they weren't prepared with fact-based evidence."

Irish Independent

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