Airbnb tax controversy lingers

Existing law should be enforced

 

Why are Government ministers and Oireachtas members apparently unaware of the terms of some legislation that they – or their predecessors – have passed into law? The question is prompted by the reply this newspaper has received to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request made to the Department of Finance. In February, the Revenue Commissioners published an “e-brief’ clarifying the tax treatment of the rent-a-room scheme. The scheme allows individuals to receive income of up to €12,000 annually tax free, where they rent a room for residential purposes, which meets the qualifying conditions.

Revenue made clear that short-term lets to guests, including accommodation provided via online booking sites – such as Airbnb – did not qualify for tax relief. These lettings were regarded as a trade and – like guesthouses – were liable for tax. Airbnb last month told site users – hosts offering accommodation in their homes – that it would notify Revenue of their rental income.

The company said that host income had always been taxable, and had always made that clear. Prior to the company’s public statement, the tax treatment of Airbnb income had been raised in the Dáil. There, Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, pointed to the clarification Revenue had already provided months earlier, and said he had no plans to change the terms of the rent-a-room scheme.

Nevertheless, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and two of his cabinet colleagues ( Richard Bruton and Alex White), as the FoI record shows, corresponded privately with Mr Noonan, questioning whether Airbnb income could qualify for the rent-a-room scheme, and in effect lobbying for change on behalf of constituents. Just how aware are Government ministers of legislation on the statute books, and of Revenue’s obligation to implement fully all tax laws passed by the Oireachtas?

If the Government wishes to change the law, then the budget is the time, and place to announce it – not before. In the meantime the Government collectively should be ensuring the existing law is fully enforced and supported and not undermined by private and premature ministerial lobbying for change.

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