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Hospital consultants pocket thousands in PRSI loophole

An elite group of highly paid hospital consultants, employed by the HSE, are not paying PRSI on hundreds of thousands of euro that they earn in private practice.

A loophole in the original legislation allows a key category of public sector workers to benefit from a 'block exemption' -- which means civil and public sector workers recruited before April 6, 1995, pay PRSI on earnings derived from their public service employment, but they do not pay PRSI on any other income stream.

This exemption allows highly paid medical consultants with HSE contracts to avoid paying PRSI on the massive fees that they earn in private practice.

Labour TD Ciara Conway has discovered that this is one of a significant number of exemptions which may be costing the State hundreds of millions of euro in lost revenue.

Ms Conway found out that, unlike ordinary PAYE workers, who must also pay PRSI on unearned income such as the renting of houses, this particular group of public sector workers do not pay PRSI on unearned income such as "rental and investment income as well as income from dividends, deposits and savings and from overseas investments".

A series of Dail questions by Labour's Kevin Humphreys revealed last year that 301 hospital consultants earned more than €200,000 in private income from the VHI alone -- including 37 consultants who earned more than €500,000, 10 who earned more than €600,000 in private fees, and the top three who earned between €750,000 and €800,000.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Ms Conway said it was believed that "the failure to apply PRSI to elite groups such as hospital consultants" is costing the State up to €12m a year.

Figures secured by Ms Conway also suggest that the abolition of the exemption on the unearned income of all workers, and on other income streams of those employed in the civil and public service recruited prior to 1995, would yield a total of €74m additional PRSI in a full year.

A further €62m in additional PRSI could also be secured from workers with only unearned income.

"Considering where we are at the moment, where ordinary public and private sector workers are being hit time and time again, loopholes such as this for the wealthy must be closed off speedily if we are to retain any sense of social justice in the country,'' said Ms Conway.

Sunday Independent