Data protection commissioner not consulted on household charge law
DATA PROTECTION Commissioner Billy Hawkes said he was not consulted by the Government before it introduced household charge legislation.
Mr Hawkes said he was “somewhat surprised” not to have been consulted about legislation which entitled the State to access customer information from entities such as the ESB.
Speaking on RTÉ radio yesterday morning, Mr Hawkes said the commission had been left “playing catch-up” to ensure that a protocol was put in place so that only the minimum level of personal information would be accessed in order to collect the €100 charge.
“We would have preferred if those conditions were actually built into the law itself and, of course, if we had been consulted we would have made sure that were the case, but now we’re playing catch-up.”
Mr Hawkes said that there was no question of a need for legislative change in relation to the Data Protection Acts as the entitlement of the State to seek information from utilities companies was built into the Household Charge Act.
“It is totally clear from a data protection point of view, the law says clearly the information must be handed over.”
Speaking at the weekend, Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan said data protection legislation would be changed if it was necessary to secure collection of the charge. Mr Hawkes said this may have been a “misunderstanding”.
The protocol being negotiated between the commission and the department would establish the conditions under which information could be accessed and handled. Mr Hawkes said he hoped the protocol would, by the end of the week, be finalised and subsequently published.
The protocol would ensure that only the data of people who haven’t paid is accessed and that only the minimum amount of information was secured, he said.
“They should hardly need to know whether people have been paying their ESB bills or not. They just need to know that there’s a household at this address which potentially owes the charge.”
A spokesman for the Department of the Environment yesterday said that it was only seeking as much information as would be necessary to identify the owner of a property to which the charge applied but had not been paid.
For those who refused to pay, there would be the option to secure the payment through a deduction from wages or social welfare benefits once the new Fines Act had been introduced, the spokesman said.
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said, last November, he planned to introduce a system of “attachment orders” so money could be taken from wages or social welfare to pay a debt or fine over time, as an alternative to prison.
In relation to claims that many people had not had postal notification of the charge, the spokesman said the department was considering another leaflet drop before the March 31st deadline. But he said everyone eligible for the charge would still have to pay even if they received no postal notice.
Speaking on RTÉ radio yesterday, the chief executive of the Local Government Management Agency, Paul McSweeney, said the number of people registering to pay online was increasing by 25 per cent each week and he expected that to rise.
How much is the household charge and when must it be paid?The charge is €100 and must be paid by March 31st.
Who has to pay?The property owner, not the tenant, unless it is let on a lease of more than 20 years, in this case the lessee is considered the owner.
Waivers are available for those receiving mortgage interest supplement and people living in certain unfinished housing estates. Details of qualifying estates are published on the household charge website householdcharge.ie.
Property is also exempt from the charge if the owner had to vacate it for over a year before the liability date due to a long-term mental or physical infirmity.
Properties must still be registered online or by completing a new account registration form (available from most local authority offices, libraries and Citizens Information Centres) in order to claim waivers.
Do those paying the Non-Principal Private Residence (NPPR) charge have to pay?Yes. Second home or other properties attracting the (NPPR) charge are not exempt from the household charge.
How can the charge be paid?It can be paid online on the household charge website. Or by post, in which case a new account registration form must be completed and sent with a cheque, postal order or bank draft made payable to “Household Charge”, the Local Government Management Agency, PO Box 12168, Dublin 1.
Payment can also be made directly to city or county council offices. Payment cannot be made at post offices.
What are the penalties for non-payment?A 10 per cent late payment charge applies during the six months after the due date.
This increases to 20 per cent on arrears overdue for between six and 12 months and to 30 per cent for arrears of over one year.
Late payment interest of 1 per cent per month applies to arrears. OLIVIA KELLY