Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

The ignorant emigrant: Paying the penalty on tax

Nothing has made us less wistful for home than a recent bill from Dublin City Council for €3,420 in property taxes and fines, writes Ceire Sadlier

Ceire Sadlier with her daughter Juno in Lusaka, Zambia

Thu, Jun 27, 2013, 00:01


Ceire Sadlier

I left Ireland five years ago. I did not regard myself as an emigrant. I did not see myself as a victim of the recession and I did not feel resentment about my situation – until now.

We were two of those idiots who bought a €400,000 one-bed apartment in Dublin instead of ploughing rent into a bedsit so small that you had to reverse into the toilet. We were going to climb the property ladder. At the age of 25, I didn’t realise what a burden a stake in a near-half a million euro mortgage would become. We loved our apartment and it, and Ireland, was our home.

Nothing has made us less wistful for our beloved home than a recent bill from Dublin City Council for €3,420 in property tax levies and fines. To them, it is not our home. Forget about the word home, because you don’t have one anymore. It’s a residence, a property, a household.

Forgive me for a moment while I wallow like a Liveline caller about throwing money down the swanny to pay off the mortgage of a home we will never be able to live in again because of our expanded family – but actually, that’s not the kicker. We’re lucky enough to, for the moment, be able to make our repayments and keep our eyes on the prize of our children being able to benefit from our dreadful “investment”.

People in Ireland tell us how lucky we are to be away and escape the brutal taxes that they are subjected to. Well, I might live in Zambia, but Dublin City Council is after me too. And that’s fine, I’m happy to pay my taxes on our home – I mean, property.

We get our post forwarded, at a significant cost – but this is how we got our Local Property Tax bill, which we duly paid. Only then did I read about the NPPR – the Non Principal Private Residence tax and realised that this is a tax that came into existence in 2009, a year after we left. €200 a year. Jaysis, I thought, that’s €1,000 we owe. Stress. Plus another €20 for every month we haven’t paid. That’s €3,240. Holy Mother of God. That’s a pretty savage fine, don’t you think?

I started writing my pleading letters to Dublin City Council, explaining that I had never received any documentation with regards to this tax – and had we known about it, we would have been sure to pay. This is what they said:

“On introduction of the annual NPPR charge in 2009 the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government (sic) Goverment (sic) undertook a comprenhensive (sic) national media campaign with a view to public awareness of the charge. This was supplemented both at national and local level by local authorities including Dublin City Council…The issuing of invoices, charge notifications or reminders is not required under current legislation. Ultimately, the onus is on property owners to be aware of the legal requirements for their property whether or not they reside abroad.”

Ah, here lads – in fairness, I don’t access Irish local and national media frequently in Zambia. How am I supposed to fulfill my onus? Am I supposed to check the Dublin City Council website for updates once a month? If so – would they be on there? Am I supposed to hire a tax advisor? If so, would they be able to tell me? Please tell me, so I don’t get hammered on some other tax I don’t know about.

With no room for bargaining and no money to pay it off, the overall fine is accruing by €100 a month for the €20 we didn’t pay in June 2009, the €20 we didn’t pay in June 2010 and so on. It is a ferocious penalty in my book.

We could have kept our heads buried, but we are those nervous types of people who think that they’ll get you in the end. I don’t think that “emigrants” or “non-residents” should be exempt from the taxes they owe in Ireland. But I do think they should be given a fair chance to be informed about them.