State still owed €2 billion in taxes by companies which deferred Revenue debts during Covid

Scheme allowed businesses to defer paying certain tax liabilities until they were in a position financially to deal with the debt

Some 61,278 businesses that availed of Revenue’s debt warehousing scheme (DWS) during the pandemic still owed a combined total of €1.999 billion in taxes by the end of May 2023.

Introduced to assist businesses experiencing cash flow and trading difficulties during Covid-19, the scheme allowed businesses to defer paying certain tax liabilities until they were in a position financially to deal with the debt.

Revenue has confirmed that the bulk of debt still owed through the scheme is warehoused by only 6,139 customers, all with outstanding balances greater than €50,000, totalling €1.699 billion.

The scheme imposes a deadline of May 1st 2024 for businesses to agree a phased payment arrangement with Revenue to repay the warehoused debt.

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In a statement to The Irish Times, Revenue said that as of the end of May 2023, more than 93 per cent of that debt has been paid, leaving the balance of €1.999 billion.

“Of this total, 32 per cent have warehoused debts of less than €100, 15 per cent have warehoused debts between €101 and €1,000, and a further 18 per cent have warehoused debts between €1,001 and €5,000. In total, 65 per cent of businesses in the warehouse have an outstanding balance of less than €5,000,” it said.

The statement added that to reduce their interest bill, some businesses have already begun to repay their warehoused debt where their financial circumstances permit.

“This is very evident in the warehouse balance of €1.999 billion at end-May 2023, which shows a €217 million reduction when compared to end-March 2023. Revenue’s expectation is that this trend will continue to increase for the remainder of the year and into early 2024 as businesses proactively make plans to address the payment of their warehoused debt and reduce their interest costs,” it said.

Figures provided in March by Minister for Finance Michael McGrath showed that 510 companies eligible for the debt warehousing scheme have been liquidated, with total tax debt of just more than €55 million (€50 million of which had been warehoused).

In its latest Insolvency Barometer report for the second quarter of 2023, PwC said that as the May 2024 deadline approaches, it expects the number of liquidated companies who were eligible for the scheme to increase.

Ken Tyrrell, Business Recovery Partner with PwC Ireland, said it expects “companies will look to formal restructuring processes such as examinership and Scarp to deal with legacy debts”.

The PwC report found that overall, insolvency levels were 54 per cent higher in the first six months of 2023 when compared with the first half of 2022, rising to 321 business failures. Annual business failure rates increased by 79 per cent in the year to June 2023, however the report noted that overall business failure rates remain low.

Ellen O'Regan

Ellen O’Regan

Ellen O’Regan is an Irish Times journalist.