Household tax threat criticised

Mon, Apr 2, 2012, 01:00

Government threats to withdraw public services where the household charge is not paid are an "outrageous" attack on the poor, it has been claimed.

Government sources confirmed to The Irish Times yesterday that the allocation of funds raised through the €100 levy. household charge would be linked to the amount of revenue raised in different local authority areas.

Socialist TD Joe Higgins said the Government would face a major public outcry if it tried to impose the cuts. 

“If they go along these lines they will be encouraging massive social dislocation and further social inequality. It will simply not be permissible,” said Mr Higgins. “There will be an outcry, an upheaval against that. It will be outrageous.”

Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan hinted over the weekend that he would reward authorities that pulled out all the stops to collect outstanding registration payments. Mr Higgins said poor areas would suffer further as a result.

“The wealthiest areas in the country will get more resources than they have already, while the poorest will continue to go without. It’s irresponsible,” he said. "This would cause a further gap in the massive inequality that already exists. It would be socially destructive.”

Minister of State for Health Róisín Shortall today accepted the Government had made "mistakes" in the implementation of the household charge. In an interview this morning, she said "lessons need to be learned" over the process, which saw more than 800,000 households register and pay the €100 charge by the deadline of midnight last Saturday.

“There is a need now to take stock, to see where people haven’t been making the payment, and why they haven’t been making the payment,” Ms Shorthall told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland. “I think we need to see where mistakes were made and how we can improve compliance with this charge.”

This morning, Socialist councillor Ruth Coppinger of the Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes said some councils would effectively be "rewarded" at the expense of others. “Those boroughs with a higher number of wealthier residents who can afford to pay the tax would be given even more government funding, while less well-off districts would be penalised,” she said.

Mr Hogan hinted at this by saying he was looking at a way of better rewarding local authorities “that pull out all the stops to collect the charge”. The Minister thanked all those householders “who had carried out their patriotic duty” and paid.

More than 80 per cent of those who had paid the charge by midnight on Saturday did so online. People paying that way this week and up to the end of the month will be charged an automatic €11 extra, covering a penalty and interest.

Mr Hogan said on Saturday that sacks of mail remained to be opened and processed and a massive influx of postal applications was expected throughout next week. “Until the current backlog and postal applications are finalised we will not have the final compliance figures. That could be a couple of weeks,” he added.

The Minister emphasised that the money raised through the household charge would be used to fund vital local services. “The more that is paid and collected, the better the quality of services to be provided locally,” said Mr Hogan, who once again appealed to people who had not yet paid the charge to do so as soon as possible.

The 34 city and county councils are responsible for chasing up those who have not paid. Their funding allocations from the Department of the Environment will depend on how successful they are in this. The charge was due to generate revenues of €160 million and Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has said the shortfall will not be made up from central funds.

Mr Hogan said he was acutely aware that Irish people have had a difficult time of it over the last few years, but in spite of that 800,000 had registered and paid the levy.

“They understand the need to pay for local services and, by paying the household charge, they have made their valuable contribution to the continuation of essential services at the local level. I thank them for this.”

He insisted the country was on the road to economic recovery, and the Government had made the tough decisions required to achieve that objective. “Nobody wants the imposition of new taxes or charges, and I would have preferred not to have had to introduce this charge. However, the principle of the household charge is very important,” said the Minister.

Mr Hogan said Ireland was one of the last countries in Europe not to pay for essential local services through a locally-based tax. The tax base in Ireland was being broadened through the introduction of the charge and this would serve to move the focus away from taxing people’s work, which would in turn support employment generation.

Mr Higgins, one of the leaders of the campaign for non-payment of the charge, has accused the Government and the media of grossly distorting the payment figures to suggest 50 per cent of households had complied.

“The 2011 census found just under two million houses in the State. [Of these] 129,000 are owned by local authorities and do not have to be registered. This leaves 1.86 million houses that must be registered,” he said. This meant the figure for compliance was just more than 40 per cent of the total required – and not 50 per cent as suggested, he said.

Meanwhile, Dublin Chamber has rejected a proposal by Sinn Féin councillors to seek the repeal of the household charge. A motion is to be put before tonight's meeting of Dublin City Council.

Aebhric McGibney, director of policy for Dublin Chamber, asked whether Sinn Féin would call on the council to reject that €55 million for local services that the household charge supported.

"If so, what services would they cut or are they planning on taxing struggling local businesses further? The financing of Ireland’s local authorities is a huge issue. Motions like this are a distraction from discussing a fair and equitable way of achieving better local services."

Additional reporting: PA