Motor tax changes may catch out more than just the cheats

New rules mean car owners could be taxed for off-the-road or even scrapped cars

Vintage car owners are concerned that they will now have to  declare off-the-road cars every year. Photograph: Kuznetsov Dmitry/Getty.

Vintage car owners are concerned that they will now have to declare off-the-road cars every year. Photograph: Kuznetsov Dmitry/Getty.

Wed, Jul 31, 2013, 01:00

There are significant fears that the new motor tax rules for cars taken off the road will have painful consequences for classic car owners and anyone who has scrapped a car in the past few years, but not received a proper End-of-Life Vehicle (ELV) certificate.

On July 1st new legislation on motor tax renewals came into force, specifying that any declaration that your car was off the road, and therefore not liable for tax, must now be made in advance. Until now you have been able to retrospectively declare your car as off the road, opening up the potential for motor tax evasion on a massive scale.

When he first anounced the legislation, Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan said: “There are many valid reasons why a person may wish to put their car off the road for a while, such as working abroad for a time, and they will be facilitated, so long as they let their motor tax office know in advance.We are targeting those who abuse the system and evade paying their motor tax, no more and no less.”

It all seems good and proper from that perspective, and the legislation was given a hurry-up by the fact that the Government’s coffers are being defrauded of a significant amount of money.

“There is strong evidence from the Comptroller and Auditor General’s office that the current system is a vehicle for the evasion of motor tax and that a net figure of around €50 million is being evaded by people who are making the declaration when their vehicle is in fact still on the road,” a spokesman for the Department of the Environment told The Irish Times.

Much though the laws of the land need to be changed to keep pace with events, there is another – equally significant – set of laws that need to be considered: those of unintended consequences. The current system was brought into being because there was a need for it.

Many people do indeed have to take their cars off the road for an extended period, quite legitimately, and the change in the law is not merely an attempt to wheedle out the cheaters, it’s also a shifting of responsibility away from the State and on to the individual. For a start there are those who have scrapped cars in the past few years, but have not received a proper ELV certificate, whether by accident or because an unscrupulous trader has sold on a car supposedly scrapped.

The Department has brushed aside such concerns, saying that those who disposed of cars in good faith have nothing to fear, but many of us will have received tax renewal notices for former cars we thought were dead and gone. A simple “but I sold it for scrap . . .” may not suffice when the new legislation comes into force.

There are also those who have left the country for work and left a car behind and may not catch up with the legislation in time.

The Department told us that special arrangements have been put in place to allow friends or family members of those overseas (or indeed, those indisposed by illness or physical ailments) to make and sign the first declaration for them, but it must be a worry that an online declaration system is still not up and running.

Then there are the classic car owners. Thomas Heavey of Irish Vintage Scene magazine firmly believes that the Government is setting many of us up for a fall with the new legislation.

“I think they have made a big mistake and I think that there’s not enough work being done by the Government at the moment to tell people about it. There’s going to be so many people that have left the country, with cars undeclared, who are working abroad and this is going to hurt them.

“Also, people who may not be interested in motoring events or affairs, this may not come to their attention,” he says.

“There’s no question that we agree with the Government in principle because there is a huge loss in tax, people declaring a vehicle off the road that’s not off the road.

“But then you have people who genuinely have cars that don’t know about this new legislation and they’re also unaware of the repercussions if they don’t declare off the road, and there are going to be big fines for this, and they may be forced to back-tax the cars even if it was legitimately off the road.”

The fines and penalties for not having your car properly taxed could be significant too. During the three-month lead-in to the new legislation being fully enforced, any back taxes owed on the car must be paid, along with an 8.3 per cent interest charge.

When this lead-in period ends in September, the penalty will be the arrears, plus three months’ tax plus 10 per cent interest. And then there’s the €4,000 fine and even a six-month custodial sentence for making a fraudulent off-the-road declaration.

The worry is, or should be, that many people will not be caught cheating but will be caught napping.

“The thing that the Government needs to do is let the declaration stand as off the road until you need to bring it back on to the road, not for the three-, six- or 12-month limits that are there at the moment” says Heavey.

“I have cars in storage now that I intend to restore but I know that I won’t get to them for maybe five years, but now I have to declare them off the road annually.

“We’re putting huge administration onto a public and a public system that just doesn’t need the extra strain. Just make it one declaration, for life. Keep it simple.”