Hogan to use utility bills to collect household charge

 

Data protection legislation will be changed if required to secure the collection of the household charge, Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan has said.

However, Mr Hogan said he expected to shortly establish an agreement with the Data Protection Commission to allow the use of information from utility bills which would make any change in the law unnecessary.

Speaking on RTÉ radio today Mr Hogan said the March 31st deadline would not be extended and those who refused to pay could ultimately find themselves in court.

“The people that will pay will know from me that the people that don’t pay won’t get away with it,” he said.

“Whoever doesn’t pay the charge will be liable for the charge in law and people have to think long and hard about whether they want to be in the courts.”

Latest figures from the Department of the Environment show that just over 260,000 out of approximately 1.6 million eligible households have paid the charge.

A spokesman for the department said the numbers registering to pay were increasing by about 10,000 a day. Fewer than 80 per cent had registered online while the remainder had paid by post or in person at city and county council offices.

Mr Hogan said he was “getting on exceptionally well” with the Data Protection Commissioner and expected to have the necessary arrangements in place during the year to use information from electricity and other utility companies to track down those who haven’t paid.

“We will have protocols in place with the Data Protection Commissioner for to look at utility bills from electricity networks, and other particular areas of information, to ensure we target the people who haven’t paid.”

Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes said he was satisfied legislative change would not be needed once a protocol had been established. Only the minimum amount of information would be accessed and personal information would be “very carefully” guarded he said.

He said if there were any difficulties in securing the information needed, the Government would turn its attention to legislative change to ensure the charge could be collected.

“I have the full support of the Government to enact further legislation if necessary to ensure this charge is implemented in full.”

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.

Ruth Coppinger, from the Campaign Against Household & Water Taxes, described the Minister’s willingness to change legislation in a bid to collect the household tax as “a sign of desperation”.