Friday 17 November 2017

Our income-tax system has become grossly unfair and must be changed

Tax practitioners said the income tax system was now full of distortions at most income levels (Stock photo)
Tax practitioners said the income tax system was now full of distortions at most income levels (Stock photo)
Charlie Weston

Charlie Weston

Our income-tax system is a mess. It resembles an old car that crashed and has been repaired and souped-up to make it perform better than it did in the past.

Now the old banger does more - it takes corners faster and reaches speeds never before achieved. But it has become a complex and expensive piece of kit to keep going.

In fact, it has been badly bent out of shape. So much so that is it barely recognisable from what it was before the panel-beating, engine-tweaking and other alterations started.

And all the changes mean that the poor middle-income driver is car-sick, penniless and fed up doing all the driving. That is our income-tax system.

From a relatively straight-forward system before the crash, we have taken an austerity sledgehammer to it and distorted it badly. It is now barely recognisable from the pre-boom days.

We introduced the USC (universal social contributions) to turbo-boost the State's income-tax receipts.

That accounts for €4bn of the income-tax take.

And such has been the battering that the old tax system has taken that income tax receipts now outstrip those of valued added tax (VAT). This is a reversal of the situation back in 2007 and 2008.

The income-tax system is now incredibly complex, so much so that you need to be an accountant in order to understand it.

There are some 53 moving parts. These are made up of three different tax charges - income tax, USC and PRSI (pay-related social insurance). Each of these has a different income entry point.

There are five different USC rates, according to the Irish Tax Institute. No wonder that the mugs in the middle are being clobbered.

Those workers in the squeezed middle pay more tax than in Sweden, Spain, Switzerland and the US and they pay over €800 more than a taxpayer in the UK.

The tax experts in the Irish Tax Institute looked at someone on €55,000 - not exactly a big wage in this country.

But it is not just at that level that there are pressure points.

A worker on €75,000 earns three times the amount of a person on €25,000, but pays almost eight times the amount of tax.

The differences really accelerate at higher income levels, with the capping of recent tax reductions at salaries of €70,044 having an impact.

Attempts to broaden the tax base, to generate more revenue from the likes of property taxes and water charges, rather than income tax, have hit the buffers.

The incredibly immature move by Fianna Fáil to seek to abolish water charges will rebound on middle Ireland.

Ordinary earners will just have to fill the void, as the income tax base increasingly narrows.

We are often told we have a fair and progressive tax system, but that also means that just 20pc of earners paying three-quarters of all the tax.

There are major questions about incentives to work when so much of any extra income earned is taxed so much.

Another way of looking at this is to reflect on the fact that 36pc of earners pay no income tax at all, according to the Department of Finance

When it comes to the USC, some 29pc of earners avoid paying it.

No wonder those in the middle, and those earning above the average, are hit so hard by the system and are effectively propping it up.

All this means the old income-tax banger needs to be replaced with something better.

Irish Independent

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