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Pensioners reduced to tears as Revenue helplines jammed

PENSIONERS in a panic over their pensions were reduced to tears yesterday when they were unable to clarify if they owe back taxes.

Revenue telephone helplines were inundated for a third day in a row yesterday as worried elderly people jammed the lines trying to get answers.

But huge numbers were unable to get though to the special helplines and resorted to ringing the offices of the Pensions Ombudsman instead.

Ombudsman Paul Kenny said he had people ringing him in tears.

"They were not able to get through to the Revenue so they rang us and they were in tears," he explained.

He said that many of those making contact with his office got letters saying they had underpaid tax on their pensions, but it now transpires that they had correctly declared their income.

Mr Kenny criticised the Revenue Commissioners for sending the letters to some people who were not even retired.

"There is no doubt that the Revenue have made mistakes. There are errors of different kinds."

The ombudsman, whose office investigates and decides on disputes from individuals about their occupational pensions, said he has called senior Revenue officials into his office today to explain why the pensions tax issue was handled so badly.

Mr Kenny said it was "disturbing" that people who were not liable for any extra tax on pension income had received letters about the issue.

Some people who had received letters claiming they had a state contributory pension which the taxman was not aware of are not even entitled to one, he revealed.

This was because they were retired public servants who joined the service before there was any entitlement to a state pension, other than a public sector pension.

These people were typically nurses and gardai who did not pay PRSI as they were recruited before 1995.

Others were getting letters saying they had to pay tax on a pension even though they had yet to retire.

And he revealed that hundreds of retired Aer Lingus pilots had been wrongly told in the letters that they had under-declared their state pension, when in fact they have been tax compliant for years.

More than 20,000 people have phoned the helplines set up specially to deal with the pensioner tax issue.

Senior Revenue officials are expected to be questioned at an Oireachtas Committee tomorrow about their handling of the issue.

Declan Rigney of the Revenue Commissioners admitted yesterday the organisation would need to review its communications strategy.

Irish Independent