Hogan pledges to address house tax data concerns

 

MINISTER FOR the Environment Phil Hogan has said his department will work with the Data Protection Commissioner to address “valid concerns” he had raised about the way information is shared to pursue payment of the household charge.

* The commissioner, Billy Hawkes, confirmed he had made “urgent contact” with the Departmentafter issues emerged with the website launched on January 1st to allow individuals pay the €100 tax.

Mr Hawkes described as a “disturbing development” the proposal to use information held by the ESB to pursue payments.

He said the issue had been very much on his office’s “radar” because it had arisen previously when the legislation providing for a €200 tax on second homes had been published.

He said that while there was a certain expectation of some data- sharing between government agencies, this was “extending the tentacles of the State into the commercial area”.

“We have had urgent contact with the Department of the Environment and have agreed with them that if there is to be any access to ESB data, it will be on the basis of a strict protocol, governing the minimum amount of information that is to be sought from the ESB and the security provisions governing it,” Mr Hawkes said.

Mr Hogan insisted the householdcharge.ie website set up for payment of the tax adhered to “the required data protection and privacy standards”.

Issues in relation to the website’s privacy statement would be “addressed immediately”, he said in a statement.

Mr Hogan said no data-sharing between “relevant data holders” would take place in advance of this agreement with the commissioner. Information from bodies such as the ESB would not be needed until after March 31st, which was the payment deadline.

It was his intention that any access to data would be “as limited as is practicably possible”.

Speaking to reporters later outside Leinster House, Mr Hogan was asked why his department had not consulted the commissioner’s office before now, given the charge had first been proposed as early as last summer.

He said his department had been in contact with the commissioner’s office on “a number of occasions” in December, and a meeting would take place next week that had been arranged before Christmas.

All the issues in the legislation had been cleared by the Attorney General and the data protection protocols could be discussed with the commissioner, he said.

He accepted the commissioner had identified a number of “valid issues” which he would be glad to discuss.

His department would work with the commissioner “to make sure that we comply with information, and respect the privacy of individuals”.

“We need to track down people that don’t pay, in some way,” he said.

As of yesterday afternoon, some 13,000 people had signed up to pay the charge, generating about €1.3 million.

Details collected by the householdcharge.ie site include an individual’s PPS number, even though the tax applies to a property and is not levied on an individual basis.

Mr Hogan said this was necessary to ensure individuals were properly identified, citing cases where more than one family member living in a townland shared a name.

He said the numbers of people paying the charge was “a clear indication of compliance with the legislation and the acceptance that the household charge is necessary to fund vital local services in our communities”.

INFORMATION SOUGHT

What information is sought by the householdcharge.ie website when you set up an account?

Name and email address, which are mandatory

Phone number and mobile phone number – these can be left unfilled if the user ticks a box stating he/she does not want to receive text messages

Address of property associated with the account and the correspondence address

Website indicates it has “matched” the person with the address they entered. It indicates it has “matched” an individual to the address entered even if an address not associated with the individual is entered. This appears to indicate the site is not, in fact, matching data to a PPS number from another source

What type of piped water supply connection the property has. It is not clear why this information is sought

Whether the property is a house, apartment or bedsit

It allows a one-off payment of the €100 or the establishment of a direct debit, to pay in four instalments

Payment information such as credit card number is not stored by the householdcharge.ie site, but is processed by a third party, Realex Payments

* This article was edited on Thursday, January 12th, 2012 to correct an error that occurred in the editing process.