‘Wolf in sheep’s clothing’ Bill passed for ‘won’t pay’ debtors

Bill a ‘panicked reaction’ following public’s ‘huge lack of buy-in’ on water charges

Legislation to allow for the court-ordered attachment of earnings or social welfare payments of “won’t pay” debtors now goes to the President for signing after the Seanad accepted it yesterday evening by 20 votes to 13.

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has described the legislation as "balanced", but Sinn Féin's Trevor Ó Clochartaigh said it was a "wolf in sheep's clothing" and a "panicked reaction from Government" following the public's "huge lack of buy-in" on water charges.

The Civil Debt (Procedures) Bill which also abolishes the imprisonment of debtors, was passed in the Dáil last week before the summer recess.

However, it emerged during debate on the Bill in the Seanad that people prosecuted for non-payment of fines as opposed to civil debt, are still being imprisoned because legislation to allow payment by instalment has not yet been implemented, five years after it was first passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Under the current civil debt legislation, utility companies including Irish Water as well as sole traders can apply to the courts to recover payment of debts ranging from €500 to €4,000. The money can be repaid through reductions from certain social welfare payments or through attachment of earnings, if the court so decides. Consumer debts owed to financial institutions or licensed moneylenders arising from loans are excluded from the scope of the legislation.

In a statement after the passage of the Bill the Minister described the measures as “balanced” .