Q&A Dominic Coyle

Public service penisoners to lose out in Croke Park II


I refer to the final paragraph of your reply to " USC income thresholds for over-70s " ( Irish Times Tues 19/3/2013). It would appear from the text of Croke Park II ( which the media missed) that all retired Public Servants have been subject of cuts despite not having any right of audience in relation to the planned reductions.

The threshold appears to apply to pensions of €32,500 and above and increasing incrementally thereafter. In addition, there is also a stepback clause in which pensions will be further reduced. Unlike serving public servants, no undertaking is being given to restore pensions to their original rates at the end of Croke Park II – i.e. in three years’ time.

Is this correct? If so it hardly seems equitable to a group who are not allowed to participate in negotiations which adversely affect their future and who are not in a position to supplement their future declining incomes.

Mr M.O’C., Donegal

It’s not quite correct to state that Croke Park II is cutting the pay of pensioners, although I accept the end result might be the same.

In fact, it would seem the Government – or the Labour Relations Commission or the trades unions – has been scrupulously careful to ensure that there is no specific mention of such a provision in the terms of the actual accord on which trade union members across the State are currently voting.

However, you are quite right to be concerned. There is reference under “Other Pay Related Matters” to pensions. It states: “Separately to this agreement, the parties note that the Government intends to align the reductions in public service pensions in payment with the reductions applied to serving staff. The parties note that this measure will apply to pensions in payment greater than €32,500 only.”

So, you are correct, and although it is still very unclear, I understand there is no commitment made to date to restore any cuts at a later stage, regardless of what might happen to restoration of pay and conditions for serving members of the public service.

As you say, there certainly does seem something inequitable in people who have no say at the negotiating table finding their terms and conditions cut – especially if it is without hope of reversal as would appear to be the case. For their part, the Government will probably argue that public sector pensioners have been less impacted than almost any other group in society by the changes that have taken place in the economy in recent times.

Strangely it is not something I have heard much about from thee unions in their various campaigns for and against acceptance of the deal.

I am totally confused by the letter I have received on the Local Property Tax. In one place, it talks about the value of the property being self-assessed but elsewhere it gives a figure that I owe. I tried calling the helpline number but am none the wiser. Can you help?

Mr T.M., Galway

It would appear that in what it sees as its efforts to be helpful, the Revenue has managed to totally confuse some people. There is a figure on the letter you received by it is simply a “guesstimate” from the Revenue based on its assessment of the value of the properties in your general area.

Depending on where you live, it could be reasonably accurate, or totally off the wall. If for instance, you live in one of a row of cottages surrounded by big four and five bedroom semi-detached or detached houses, you could easily find that you have the same bill as the owners of those homes.

The bottom line is that the tax is self-assessed. It is up to you to assess what your home is worth. Most people will have a reasonable idea, looking at recent sales, or other local knowledge. You are not bound by Revenue’s estimate. However, if you just ignore the issue until after the May deadline, the Revenue figure will stand.

Once you have assessed the value, you can check on page 14 of the booklet that will have come with your letter and you can see which €50,000 bracket your property falls into and the associated tax both this year (when you are paying for just the second half of the year) and in 2014 when you will be paying a full 12-month contribution.

The form and booklet then outline the payment options available.

In terms of the helpline, Revenue has been receiving an unprecedented number of calls and has produced weekly figures showing that it has been successful in handling the vast majority of them very quickly. That’s not to say it has been trouble-free. I had cause myself to contact them about my efforts to fill in the form electronically. In the course of a 10-minute call, they first told me that the information which I wanted to include was already there (when it patently was not), then that it would not allow me to add additional information (even though the section specifically offers the choice to do so) and finally that “it would all be OK anyway” (with the inaccurate information included).

Clearly, not all the kinks in the system have yet been untangled.

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, Dublin2, or to dcoyle@irishtimes.com. No personal correspondence will be entered into.