Q&A: Dominic Coyle

Caught unawares by cheque payment of local property tax

Tue, May 14, 2013, 02:00

Having read and re-read the booklet that came with the Local Property Tax form, and having filled in the form and posted it off before May 7th, I felt satisfied that our payment was not due until July 1st as in at least two places in the booklet it stated that there were two dates to remember – May 7th and July 1st – the latter being for payments.

However, The Irish Times ’ editorial on May 4th seemed to suggest that people paying by cheque (post) should have their cheques in by May 7th. Once again I took out the booklet – nothing about that in it, nothing in fact about paying by cheque at all. Obviously Revenue was hoping that the whole country is going to pay online! Not so.

I rang Revenue about it and got a woman who was able to answer my query, thus: nothing to worry about at all. Monies do not have to be paid till July 1st. Relieved, I put all literature away.

A friend phoned me last Wednesday to tell me about another piece in The Irish Time s reiterating the fact that all money by post should have been in by May 7th. I rang Revenue again. A different person this time told me that the paper is right – and their staff member was wrong who told me otherwise, but that I will not be penalised if I post the cheque off immediately.

I am stunned. We cannot be the only people in the country who are paying by cheque. Is anyone else confused?

Ms AM, Dublin

I suspect most of the confusion arises from people being somewhat nonplussed by the whole issue of assessing themselves the value of their home and filing a return on the subject to Revenue. It’s not something that PAYE people would have any experience of.

Your close attention to the literature accompanying the form is also to be commended. The Revenue is quite detailed in setting out how to comply with the terms of the new tax and stepping outside those can lead to penalties and worse.

However, you do appear to have missed a couple of things. Most importantly, on Page 15 of the leaflet immediately under the heading D. Payment Options, the document says: “You must select one of the payment options on the Return. If you wish to pay by cheque, bank draft or postal order, please enclose this with your completed Return ” (my emphasis).

So, it is incorrect to state that there is nothing in the form about paying by cheque at all, or that there is nothing about anyone paying by cheque having to do so by May 7th – the return date for the form.

Clearly, the options for payment by cheque, postal order or bank draft relate only to return of the physical form rather than the online registration.

I grant you that the Revenue might have made more play of it, in much the same way they have done in going through the other payment options, but I can only assume they did not want to encourage payment by cheque (which I guess could have been post-dated, as there is nothing to the contrary in the document), postal order or bank draft.

There is a massive logistics effort for Revenue in getting this tax in place at all, and I can understand that they would certainly not want cheques sent in isolation (and possibly without key figures such as property ID or PPS number) nearly three months after paper forms have been sent, logged and filed.

Secondly, you are quite incorrect to state that the only two “key dates” the leaflet refers to are May 7th and July 1st. In fact, on page 20 (the final page) of the leaflet, it sets out six key dates, starting with May 1st, the benchmark date of valuing your property.

It then goes on to cite May 7th for return of paper form, May 28th for registration online, July 1st for “commencement of phased payments”; July 15th as the date direct debits will be drawn on and finally July 21st as the date on which people can make a single debit authority payment – i e , a full payment of the 2013 charge by a single electronic drawdown from your bank.

Have people been caught out? Sure, they have. Whose fault is it? Largely their own, unfortunately, in failing to properly read the associated documentation, although the Revenue might have been a bit more comprehensive in its leaflet (there is additional information on its website, but I accept not all people would go there).

I also agree with you that the helpline is a decidedly mixed experience – having used it myself. While it would certainly help if those the Revenue has manning the helpline were able to answer what is, in your case, a very straightforward query, unfortunately, the help- line is just that, an aid. It will not absolve the taxpayer of any liability under self-assessment.

One way or the other, the most recent Exchequer returns indicate that 10 per cent of all Local Property Tax has been paid by the end of last month – a full two months ahead of the July 1st deadline.

Finally, a mea culpa. In last wee k’s piece on a young man exploring whether to rent or buy, I referred to mortgage interest relief, which, of course, is no longer available to any buyers from the end of last year. I meant to refer to relief from local property tax, which is available to first-time buyers until 2016.

This column is a reader service and is not intended to replace professional advice. Please send your questions to Q&A, c/o Dominic Coyle, The Irish Times, 24-28 Tara St , D 2, or to dcoyle@irishtimes.com