Monday 18 December 2017

Property tax sting – Revenue will probe evaders' finances

Fionnan Sheahan, Mark Keenan and Charlie Weston

PROPERTY tax dodgers run the risk of having all their income audited by the Revenue Commissioners, the Irish Independent has learned.

A detailed list of average house prices in every area of the country will be given to homeowners to help them assess the value of their property.

But the new property-tax law will set out the interest and penalties for not paying up.

Similar to the Revenue's policy on income tax dodgers, failure to pay the property tax will result in people running the risk of an audit.

The highly unpopular tax has left Government TDs worried about the loss of support in the wake of this week's punishing Budget.

Tensions are now mounting between Fine Gael and the Labour Party as the coalition partners try to blame each other for one of the Budget's harshest measures – the cut to the respite care grant.

The Government is coming under increasing pressure to reverse that decision but Taoiseach Enda Kenny insisted that the Government would not row back on cuts in the Budget.

Mr Kenny said "none of the choices" had been easy but the Budget had now "gone through". He added: "It is the intention of the Government to carry through the Budget."

The property tax legislation will be published today.

Payment will begin from the first week of next May onwards, although it will only be for half of 2013.

Urban homeowners will cough up almost half of the property tax take in 2014, despite accounting for just over one third of the number of households in the country, an analysis by this newspaper reveals.

The tax authorities are currently drawing up the biggest database ever compiled on the ownership of houses in the country.

The Department of Finance says Revenue will be given the full range of powers in the new law, including the charging of interest and penalties and prosecution.

"Not paying the property tax will be the same in Revenue's mind as not paying a tax bill," a spokesman said.

Revenue often cites the threat of an audit for taxpayers who fail to file their tax returns on time.

The legislation will also allow for the compulsory deduction of the property tax at source in certain cases, including some social welfare payments – although it will not be taken from the primary benefits.

Revenue already has the data from the household charge, second-home tax, rented houses and stamp-duty payments and will soon have the details of electricity companies.

The property tax law will set out the interest and penalties for not paying up – including the risk of an audit by the taxman. Government sources say the reason behind handing the responsibility for collection over to Revenue is to ensure higher rates of payment.

Ministers also believe that homeowners will be less likely to defy the taxman – compared to the local council – and won't want to pop up on Revenue's radar.

Property tax dodgers will be "safe to assume" that Revenue will look at their income, said a source, adding: "Non-payment or late payment of income tax triggers a look at tax offences, which may result in an audit."

The Revenue Commissioners are expected to use their Risk Evaluation Analysis and Profiling (REAP) for non-compliant taxpayers.

The REAP system prioritises cases based on risk "enabling Revenue to target its attention on those who need it most and minimising contact with compliant customers".

The system focuses on a taxpayer's track record, rather than upon single returns.

Stamp duty

First-time buyers next year will not have to pay the new Local Property Tax until the end of 2016. This is among a series of exemptions announced by Finance Minister Michael Noonan in the Budget.

However, this concession has proved divisive as people who bought during the boom – and paid large amounts of stamp duty – will not get a break from the property tax.

The Government was advised by an expert group advising on the tax that these homeowners should not be exempt. It told the Coalition that housebuyers knew they were paying high stamp duty when they bought their homes.

A couple who bought a home during the property bubble would have typically paid out €15,000 in stamp duty for a €300,000 home. That home has now probably halved in value.

The expert group, headed by consultant Dr Don Thornhill, was asked by the Government to come up with options for the new tax. It admitted that many people ended up with even bigger debts than they should have because they were forced to add the cost of the stamp duty to their mortgages.

City-dwellers will end up paying almost half of the country's total property tax take, as house prices are generally much higher in urban areas.

An analysis by the Irish Independent reveals that Dublin city dwellers are likely to pay an average property tax rate of €405, compared with their rural counterparts who will pay an average of €249.

This means that the capital's 466,461 households will pay €188.9m – or 39pc of the entire projected property tax take.

Residents in cities Cork, Waterford and Galway will pay an average rate of €315.

The cheapest homes to pay tax on are in Longford. This is the only county where the average house price is below €100,000, resulting in a property tax of just €90.

Irish Independent

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