Government defends ‘ghost estate’ property tax exemption list

Number of households qualifying for waiver far lower than had been expected

Boarded up unfinished houses in a so-called ghost estate in Co Laois. Photograph: Eric Luke

Boarded up unfinished houses in a so-called ghost estate in Co Laois. Photograph: Eric Luke

Fri, Mar 22, 2013, 06:00

The Government has defended the decisions made on the list of so-called “ghost estates” which are exempt from the property tax, following criticism by some residents in unfinished estates who believed they should not have to pay.

Figures published by Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan earlier this week revealed the number of households qualifying for a waiver was far lower than expected.

While 43,000 houses were exempt from the €100 household charge last year because they were in unfinished estates, just 5,100 will be exempt from the new property tax.

The department noted yesterday, however, that not all of the 43,000 homes exempt from the household charge had been occupied. Just 23,443 properties had been registered for the waiver as of last Friday.

Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte told the Dáil he believed what had been published by the Department of the Environment in relation to the ghost estates was “fair”.

He said it related to the improved performance in finishing estates and the application of a standard, nationwide methodology of assessment.

“The purpose of the tax is to broaden the tax base so that the Government can avoid putting additional taxes on income and people at work.”

The Department of the Environment noted the unfinished housing estates listed for exemption had been compiled by local authorities “utilising the categorisation in place in respect of the household charge, updated by reference to the National Housing Survey 2012”.

That survey was carried out last summer by the department, in conjunction with local authorities and the Housing Agency.

Mr Hogan signed the regulations to prescribe the list of qualifying estates on Tuesday.

‘Substantially complete’
Last year’s survey revealed that 1,203 developments

that had previously been exempt could be removed from the exemptions list as they were “either substantially complete or had never commenced”.

Many substantially complete developments had also been taken in charge by local authorities. The number of unfinished developments had fallen by 37 per cent since 2010, to 1,770, the department said.

The exemption from liability from the property tax will apply to 421 developments or about 5,100 households.

It said the categorisation used for the household charge waiver related largely to the level of on-site activity at the time the 2011 survey was carried out and had “less to do with the physical character of a development”.

In some cases, an almost fully completed development, finished to a high standard but where the developer was no longer on site or was “off the scene altogether”, would have benefited from the waiver.

Malachy Quinn, who lives at Castleland Park View in Balbriggan, north Dublin, said his own estate had been exempt from the €100 household charge but was now liable for the tax.

He said there were still houses unsold and others being built behind his house, so it was “technically a ghost estate”.