An unfair burden

Fri, Feb 1, 2013, 00:00

A property tax introduced when house prices are soaring is the optimum time both to raise revenue and to deflate a property bubble. Between 1997 and 2006, house prices rose by 247 per cent, and have since collapsed – down by more than half from their peak. This is not the ideal time to introduce such a tax. But the Government – in view of the weak state of the public finances and the bailout agreement with the troika – has no option. For years, the case for a property tax has been clear, both on revenue and equity grounds, and to broaden the tax base.

How the Revenue Commissioners will administer and collect the tax has prompted some public concern. The new tax will be raised by self-assessment, but with tight deadlines set for homeowners to complete returns, and to pay what is due. This schedule has caused some uncertainty given Revenue’s lack of clarity on how market values can be assessed. As few house sales have been completed in recent years, there is virtually no housing market on which to base a reliable valuation.

In March, Revenue will send homeowners its estimate of the market value of their house, and of the tax owing. Owners must complete and return a self-assessment tax form by May. Where they agree with Revenue’s estimate, no problem arises. And where they do not, homeowners might well use the newly-established national property register – which records all house sales since 2010 – as a basis for valuation.

Alternatively, they could challenge the Revenue estimate, and have their house valued by an independent valuation expert. The problem here is that they are left with too little time in which to do it, a matter of weeks. Until recently, the legal ban on public disclosure of house sale prices, other than those sold at auction, has resulted in a lack of price transparency in the property market. Against such an opaque background, Revenue’s proposals – as yet unclear – demanding full payment of the tax by mid-year have placed an unfair burden on homeowners .

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