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We won some battles, lost others in a Budget of two halves

IT was a Budget of two halves – not as harsh as some might have expected with social welfare payments and VAT rates unchanged, but tough on savers and those without a job, who will see deep cuts in their incomes.

Many families, and particularly pensioners, will spend an anxious few months before they learn if they will be allowed keep their medical cards. A promised review, details of which have not been revealed, is aimed at saving €113m a year and removing "ineligible and redundant" cards from the system.

And those who put money aside for a rainy day will also be punished – until yesterday, they paid €33 of every €100 earned in interest back to the State in DIRT tax. That now rises to 41pc.

It is hoped that increasing the rate will encourage people to spend more, but many will feel – particularly as the pensions levy has also increased to 0.75pc for next year – that those who manage their finances prudently are being unfairly punished.

The good news is there is no hike in income tax or the Universal Social Charge, while VAT rates remain unchanged.

The bad news is that those who enjoy a drink and/or a cigarette will be hit with a 10c increase on a pint or small whiskey, with 10c added to a pack of 20 cigarettes.

Most basic social welfare rates including pensions remain unchanged. However, just €100 will be paid in jobseeker's allowance up to the age of 24, rising to €144 at 25 years and €188 after – a fall of at least €44.

In another unwelcome development, the €850 bereavement grant is abolished, and the telephone allowance is also gone.

Both homeowners and the construction sector got a much-needed boost with the introduction of tax relief for those who refurbish their homes. The VAT rate of 13.5pc can be reclaimed against income tax bills.

The measure covers everything from tiling to plumbing and major extensions, and works costing between €5,000 and €30,000 will qualify, as long as the builder employed is tax-compliant.

Of course, homeowners will also be hit with a full year of the property tax for 2014, so there's some pain there.

Families also benefited, with parents of children aged under five no longer expected to pay for frequent and expensive trips to the family doctor. However, the measure will not take effect until at least next summer.

No changes to class sizes and 1,250 new teachers is also welcome.

Child benefit is untouched bar a €10 cut for a fourth or subsequent child. Families with expensive medical insurance plans will also be hit as relief has been capped at €1,000 per adult and €500 per child from today. Maternity benefits have also been standardised to €230 per week.

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Motorists won, and lost – there's no changes to motor tax rates or excise duty on fuel, but there's a cut in money set aside for road maintenance, which fell by €50m.

By Paul Melia


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