IFA could face legal challenge on levy collection system

IFA to target services at farmers who pay levies

IFA President Joe Healy, flanked by General Secretary Damian McDonald and IFA Deputy President Richard Kennedy.
IFA President Joe Healy, flanked by General Secretary Damian McDonald and IFA Deputy President Richard Kennedy.
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

The IFA could face legal challenges to its levy collection system which identifies farmers opting out of the levy collected by meat processors, marts and co-ops on the association's behalf.

The levy was worth €3.2m last year to the association, which is now seeking the names, addresses, phone numbers and herd numbers of farmers who do not contribute.

Farmers opting out of the levy are obliged to complete a form which states that the details provided will be given to the IFA.

The IFA says the revamped levy collection system will ensure that it can prioritise services to farmers who pay the levy. It also said the farmer’s information is only passed to IFA if the farmer signs the form and gives explicit consent to do so.

Formal agreements have now been finalised by the IFA with some of the country's largest dairy processors for the ongoing collection of the levy.

And it is understood that agreement has also been finalised with the Dawn Meats Group for collection of the levy and talks are at an advanced stage with the Kepak Group.

However, a leading data protection expert has questioned the legality of the IFA's bid to identify farmers who opt out of levies.

Dr TJ McIntyre, a solicitor and law lecturer at UCD, said there must be a legal basis to provide information to third parties and this must normally be done on an 'opt-in' basis.

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"It would be permissible to pass on the information that a farmer has contributed, as long as those who contribute to the levy do so on the basis that they are consenting to their information being shared.

'Name and shame'

"But you cannot simply 'name and shame' farmers who opt out without some legal basis, and the fact that a form asserts that information will be shared is not itself a sufficient legal basis," said Dr McIntyre. "If the form does not allow farmers to opt out of the levy without their personal data being passed on to the IFA then it is not valid consent for the purposes of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation)."

He added that an aggrieved farmer would have the option of making a complaint to the Data Protection Commission. It can impose fines of up to 4pc of turnover on either the collector or the IFA (or both) if transfers are made without a legal basis.

Documents seen by the Farming Independent detailing the IFA levy arrangements ask factory collectors to ensure the opt-out form is completed by as many non-levy paying farmers as possible.

It also states that the IFA will indemnify the collector in the event of a legal challenge being brought by a farmer, provided the collector notifies the IFA as soon as possible of any such claim.

A 2016 IFA review of its income structure recommended more formal arrangements be put in place with all collectors.

It stated that while all farmers benefit from the national and international representation of the Association, this requires significant resources and "in the interest of fairness, farmers who provide their full contribution to the Association have to be prioritised".

IFA says the levy allows all farmers to contribute fairly and proportionately based on the scale of their enterprise to support the association's work on their behalf.

The IFA levy, formerly known as the European Involvement Levy (EIF) has been collected since the 1970s and provided IFA with €3.2m in funding in 2018, up from €2.9m in 2017, but down from €4.2m in 2016 and €4.67m in 2015.

Spotlight

The levy is deducted at a rate of 0.15pc (€1.50 per €1,000 of sales) on the gross value of all produce sold.

The levy came under the spotlight after the 2015 IFA pay scandal saw the association declaring full accounts to the public for the first time.

The country's largest meat processor, ABP, stopped collecting the IFA levy from farmers in 2016. It was estimated to be collecting in excess of €400,000 from farmers but ended automatic collection in 2016 when it introduced an 'opt in' system for farmers.

It is understood that attempts by the IFA in recent months to engage with Goodman's ABP group to renegotiate a levy deal have failed.

Indo Farming


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