Tuesday 12 December 2017

Revenue admits to error in property tax furore

Michael Brennan and Greg Harkin

THE Revenue has admitted making a mistake in not sending enough information to people about paying their property tax for next year.

Its chairwoman, Josephine Feehily, was brought before the Oireachtas Finance Committee to answer questions about the controversial tax.

She was quizzed on why homeowners had to pay their property tax for next year before Christmas if they were using a credit or debit card.

Ms Feehily said the Revenue had pared the property tax letter "back to the basics" in the belief that almost one million households had sufficient information in the booklet sent out earlier for the payment of the 2013 property tax.

"Clearly, this was a mistaken assumption on our part," she admitted.

Ms Feehily accepted that the issue of when and how to pay the property tax was causing "some anxiety". But she said there were too many risks involved to allow people to pay the property tax by credit or debit card after Christmas.

"It is certainly not possible to do anything about it this year. I would never refuse to consider changing things for next year. I just think it's important not to think this is simple," she said.

Labour TD Ciaran Lynch, who is chair of the committee, told Ms Feehily that it was possible for credit card payments to be delayed for hotel bookings and M50 toll charges.

"We are talking about a systems issue, as opposed to a legislative issue," he said.

Ms Feehily responded by asking him if taxpayers would be happy giving their credit card details to the Revenue to "dip" on the January 1 deadline.

She also said that given the other payment options, nobody had to pay the tax this year.

So far, around 40,000 of the 205,000 people who have filed their 2014 property tax return have paid by credit or debit card. Around 100,000 have opted for the single debit authority – a once-off payment from their bank account, which will be debited on March 21.

Several Government TDs, including Labour's Arthur Spring and Kevin Humphreys, pressed Ms Feehily to allow next year's property tax to be paid via credit card after Christmas.

However, Ms Feehily said that there had been no protests when people were asked earlier this year to pay the 2013 property tax by credit card in May, even though the final due date was July 1.

She said the Revenue was wondering how it had got into the controversy over credit card payments of the property tax when it had provided seven payment options in total.

"There were times last week when I was tempted to say we won't take plastic cards at all," she said. Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins said it was the Government that was trying to blame the Revenue, even though it had passed the law.

Independent TD Richard Boyd Barrett said it was a 'show trial'. However, Ms Feehily said there was nothing inappropriate about her being asked to answer questions about the property tax.

So far, 91pc of households have paid the tax for this year, with 85pc of them valuing their house at less than €250,000.

Ms Feehily warned that the Revenue would be dedicating even more staff in the New Year to pursuing the 150,000 homeowners who have not paid. She said they would also look at people who had valued their house at below the "norms" in their area. And she said there were new data sources being added all the time – such as the house price database.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party chairman in Donegal said the property tax fiasco was the "last straw" as he quit the party.

Letterkenny-based Peter Cutliffe said he had been inundated with complaints over how the Government had handled the collection of next year's local property tax.

"I believe that the Labour Party no longer represents the ordinary citizen, particularly in rural areas like Donegal, and I want to represent the views of local people," he said.

"I therefore cannot continue to speak for the Labour Party in Donegal."

Irish Independent

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