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Mercy for those whose cheque is late in post

THEY might be refusing to extend the deadline -- but Household Charge payments that arrive 'late' by post will not be subjected to penalties.

Officials say that postal payments will be accepted for up to a week after next Saturday's deadline.

The news will be welcomed by those campaigning for the deadline to be pushed back -- but the Government says this is not a climbdown.

Internet payments made after March 31 will be hit with a €10 late-payment fee.

However, officials will examine the postmark on each envelope received to see when the registration form was posted.

"There won't be a big problem for people who genuinely made the effort to get their payment in on time," said a source.

A massive backlog of post has built up at local authority offices around the country as council staff process thousands of last-minute forms.

Latest figures suggest that the number of people paid up will have passed 500,000 by the end of business today.

This is still fewer than one-third of the 1.6 million households who have to pay the tax.

Government sources say they would be "relieved" if they get 50pc of the payments before the deadline.

"Obviously at the start the realistic aim would have been to get around 80pc on the first go -- but at this stage anything above half will be welcome," explained a source. It has been confirmed that 95 council offices will be open on Saturday.

Socialist TD Joe Higgins said the Government was facing a mass revolt over the charge and would not be able to impose it.


In a separate development, the Department of the Environment said people entitled to a waiver, including those living in council housing, would not be hit with a penalty if they don't register.

"There are fines for not registering but local authorities will not be pursuing that," the department said.

And thousands of shopkeepers who expected to be exempt from paying the charge will now have to fork out €100.

There was fresh confusion for B&B operators and homeowners who live above their business premises. It had appeared they were not liable, but most will have to pay.