Budget 2021: Irish Times readers focus on Covid and green issues

Q&A session also covered new student payment plan and tax debt warehousing for landlords

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe at a press conference in Government Buildings on Tuesday. Photograph: Julien Behal Photography/PA Wire

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe at a press conference in Government Buildings on Tuesday. Photograph: Julien Behal Photography/PA Wire

 

Covid and green issues were the issues that grabbed readers’ attention in Budget 2021 as was to be expected with both issues central to this year’s two-hander with Fine Gael’s Paschal Donohoe and Fianna Fáil’s Michel McGrath.

Readers taking part in a live online Q&A session at The Irish Times on Wednesday were particularly engaged by the new Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) for small and medium-size businesses as well as how to access the promised household deep-retrofit scheme.

The CRSS scheme is promising to pay up to €5,000 a week to businesses in certain sectors when Level 3 restrictions are in place in a county or region. The sectors eligible initially are hospitality, the arts, recreation and entertainment.

Other sectors may be included if the restrictions increase to Level 4 or above.

Businesses can only apply when their turnover is 20 per cent or less than the level it was in the same period in 2019. They will get 10 per cent on the first €1 million of turnover, dropping to 5 per cent on anything above this level.

There was some confusion about whether the scheme would be limited to companies with annual turnover of less than €2 million but the Revenue Commissioners, which will operate the scheme, knew nothing about that and it does not chime with the €5,000 weekly figure.

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Further details are expected in the Finance Bull, which will be published next week.

Retrofit

The deep-retrofit scheme, a Green party priority, also intrigued readers, but again there was little clarity on exactly how it will work.

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Mr McGrath, said he was allocating €100 million for energy efficiency projects. But it is not clear just how much of this will go to the National Home Retrofit Scheme, which is being organised through the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI).

While applications for the scheme are open, any decision on particular submissions awaits budget allocation within the Department of the Environment. What is clear, according to the criteria on the SEAI site, is that individual homeowners will not be able to apply for a one-off home retrofit.

A feature of the budget for the public was how many grey areas it contained, perhaps because many government departments had yet to hold briefings at which they generally flesh out measures impacting on their budget.

A case in point was the unexpected third-level student payment. A sum of €50 million was ring-fenced for this scheme, likely to deliver a flat rate payment of €250 per full-time college student.

However, even Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris was unable to give any indication of when the money would be payable.

“Detailed work will be undertaken on how this once-off fund will operate for submission to Government prior to commencement,” he said, speaking after the budget on Tuesday night.

Motoring

There was some interest in the Government’s new vehicle registration tax and motor tax scheme adjustments but not enough to suggest that Minister for Transport and Climate Change Eamon Ryan’s hoped-for surge in electric car purchases is likely any time soon.

Among the self-employed, it emerged that landlords will be able to access the debt warehousing scheme announced on budget day, which allows self-assessed taxpayers to defer their 2019 tax payments, as well as preliminary taxes for 2020, for a year.

According to Revenue, the provisions apply to all self-assessed income tax payers, including those with rental income. It was introduced to help the self employed deal with the impact of Covid 19, but to qualify for the scheme, taxpayers should be able to show that their income has been reduced by at least 25 per cent compared to 2019, and they are unable to pay their income tax liabilities which would otherwise be due by December 10th, 2020, for those filing online.