Q&A Dominic Coyle

Can the Revenue force me to pay 2014 local property tax this year?


I have received a letter from the Revenue about next year’s Local Property Tax. It tells me that I need to let them know by November 7th how I intend to pay.

I paid by Laser card last year but obviously the bill is twice as large this time around and they say they will take the money as soon as I confirm I am using the Laser card again.

I think they’re behaving in an unforgivably strong-handed manner over this. There’s no way I can pay that sort of money with Christmas around the corner. Surely I cannot be forced to pay next year’s tax in full this year?

Mr O.D., Dublin

Given its role in chasing us for tax, the Revenue generally struggles for friends. On this occasion, however, I think it is getting a bum rap.

No one is forcing anyone to pay the tax upfront and in one lump sum. If, however, you choose to do so, it is unclear why you expect a debit or credit card payment in this case to operate any differently than it would in any other situation.

If you buy tickets today for a popular concert next year at the O2 or flights for next summer’s holiday, the likelihood is that you would generally pay with a credit card or a debit card, something like Laser or Visa. So what happens then?

Does Michael O’Leary ring up to say “not to worry, we won’t be drawing that payment down until you’re at the airport”? Does Ticketmaster confirm your booking for a gig possibly over a year ahead but charitably hold off on taking payment, trusting that you’ll do the right thing when you arrive at the venue?

Of course not. Whether it’s shopping for groceries or for any other good or service to be consumed now or at some time in the future, payment with a debit card is always deducted immediately from your account, that’s the whole point of debit cards: they operate like cash payments without you having to physically carry around the money.

In the case of a credit card, the payment is also credited to your account and billed at the end of the month when, if you’re sensible, you’ll pay it off in full to avoid attracting onerous interest charges.

Everyone knows this so it’s a bit of a mystery (to me at least) why it should have caused such a brouhaha this time around – much more intense than last summer when, after all, exactly the same choices were available, albeit for a half year’s tax.

This is especially so as Revenue is not insisting that people pay the tax in a lump sum, or ahead of time. Revenue is offering the option of lump sum or staged payments. In fact, it is offering a very broad range of seven options for paying the local property tax bill.

So what are they?
direct debit (phased payment taken on the 15th of each month from your bank account)
debit card (lump sum taken as soon as you notify Revenue of this option)
credit card (lump sum billed to your account as soon as you notify Revenue of this option)
deduction from wages / occupational pension / welfare payments / certain payments from the Department of Agriculture (phased payment spread evenly over your annual wage / pension / welfare or farm payments)

single debit authority (lump sum taken via a once-off debit on your bank account in March 21st, 2014 – a bit like if you had written an “electronic” cheque for the full sum dated March 21st, 2014)

cash (phased payment, either weekly or monthly, via post offices, shops displaying the Payzone logo or Omnivend machines. Cash payments can even be made using debit or credit cards at those outlets, depending on the rules of the group processing the payment. Note: this option can incur additional processing costs)

cheque (lump sum on or before January 1st 2014)

Personally I find it hard to believe that so many people could/did pay their local property tax bill in full – the Revenue is apparently only sending out letters to those who made lump sum payments (or cash payments), which would indicate that almost one million households in the State did so.

Could the Revenue have an ulterior motive for doing this? Well, if close to a billion households are going to pay by lump sum, it will certainly put a more favourable gloss on the end-of- year exchequer returns as those payments received before the end of the year will be credited against the 2013 national accounts.

But who could that help? Revenue? Not really. Its job is simply to collect taxes on behalf of the State. The people who will certainly benefit is the Government as it will undoubtedly take all the credit for any data that is more positive than projected, including tax returns.

That makes Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore’s studied shock at the situation over the weekend all the more puzzling – especially as he was a leader in the Coalition which determined in the Finance (Local Property Tax) Act 2012 that the tax is due on January 1st of the year it covers.

Could Revenue have communicated more clearly? Yes. Like almost all communications from the public service, Revenue notifications would generally benefit from oversight by the Plain English Campaign.

It appears to me that they boxed off the phased payment options – direct debt, deduction at source from wages or pensions, and cash payments – with the intention of highlighting those options. In the event, however, it may have caused some confusion.

Neither they nor anyone else should be using phrases like “single debit authority” – how about a “once-off debit on your bank account” or even “we will take the money from your account as a lump sum on March 21st, 2014”. The same goes for the phrase: “payment service provider”: what’s wrong with “the following list of places where you can pay weekly or monthly in cash”? There are only three, after all.

Could they have used a different date? They could but it really doesn’t alter the issue. At some point at or towards the start of 2014, if you choose credit or debit card payment, you will have to pay the full local property tax due in one lump sum, up to a year before you finish.

The message is clear – you can pay in a lump sum if you want to or you can pay on a monthly basis.

However, if you do opt to pay by lump sum, you will be paying it as soon as you indicate your choice (unless you go for the ludicrously named Single Debit Authority – in which case the money will be taken from your account in March).

This column is a reader service and is not intended to replace professional advice. Please send your questions to Q&A, c/o Dominic Coyle, The Irish Times, 24-28 Tara Street, Dublin 2, or to dcoyle@irishtimes.com

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