In a serious climbdown for the Government, the Irish Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Mr Phil Hogan TD, announced on Tuesday that he has established a high level and focussed inter-departmental expert group to consider the structures and methods for an equitable valuation-based property tax that will replace the current 100 euro Household Charge. The Group is tasked with reporting back to the Minister by the end of April 2012.
However, while the Minister claims that the Government is committed to replacing the household tax with a more equitable solution, another organisation would suggest that the Government’s hand has been forced. The Campaign Against Household & Water Taxes (CAHWT) has stated that a mass boycott of registration for the Household Tax was already on course, based on the government’s own figures of around 4 percent compliance after the first month. This means that 96 percent of householders have not signed up, they say, with an actual slow-down in the rate since early January. If this rate was to continue, only 12 percent would have registered by March 31st. Registration also includes people not liable for the charge at all, said the statement, masking the real level of non-payment.
According to the CAHWT, the figures bear out the overwhelming opposition to the Household Tax illustrated by attendances at CAHWT meetings. Thousands have attended public meetings in cities and towns, such as 500 in Cork, 350 in Limerick, 300 in west Donegal, 400 in Enniscorthy, 350 in Clonmel, 250 in Kilkenny and thousands at localised meetings in Dublin. Further meetings had been planned for Leitrim, Kildare, Mayo, Monaghan and Roscommon this week, with more planned for next week.
The organisation says the message is that “ordinary people are angry, but are determined to resist government attempts to force them once again to pay the gambling debts of bankers and developers. People are not fooled by government claims that this tax [the household charge] is to fund local services – meetings in Dublin expressed their anger at the sell-off of waste collection, a key local public service, to private operators.”
The Minister stressed the Government’s firm commitment to introduce a valuation-based property tax to replace the Household Charge at the earliest opportunity. He said: “Ireland is one of the last countries in Europe to introduce property-based charges to fund local services. The tax base in Ireland needs to be broadened, but the focus must move away from taxing people’s work to lessen the impact on growth and to support employment. The expert group is to report to me by the end of April 2012 on the design, scope and implementation of the property tax, and I intend to bring proposals for an equitable valuation-based property tax to replace the Household Charge to Government as soon as possible thereafter.”
The group will be independently chaired by Dr Don Thornhill, who is recognised as having expertise in this area. It will be comprised of senior officials from the Departments of Environment, Community and Local Government; Finance; Public Expenditure and Reform; Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Social Protection; and the Revenue Commissioners. The group may also call on technical expertise from the Central Statistics Office, An Post/Ordnance Survey Ireland, the Property Registration Authority, the Valuation Office, the Property Services Regulatory Authority, and other individuals, organisations and agencies as it may deem to be of assistance in carrying out its work.
The Minister welcomed the fact that over 66,000 residential properties have registered for the Household Charge, equating to 6.6 million euro. “I would like to acknowledge and thank those people who have registered their properties and paid the Household Charge at this early stage. The large numbers of people paying the charge is a clear indication of compliance with the legislation and the acceptance that it is necessary to fund vital local services in our communities.”
According to Mr Hogan, the 100 euro will go towards paying for essential local services: public parks, libraries, open spaces and leisure amenities, planning and development, fire and emergency services, maintenance and cleaning of streets, and street lighting. These services are integral, he says, to the quality of life in local communities.
The terms of reference for the expert Inter-Departmental Group are:
“To consider the design of a property tax to be approved by Government to replace the Household Charge, and that is equitable and is informed by previous work and international experience.”
The Group is also to consider the appropriate arrangements for a robust audit function and
strong enforcement and penalty provisions for non-compliance.
Referring to the Household Charge, the CAHWT stated: “We are confident that this tax can and will be beaten. People see this as their one real chance to send a message about the ongoing austerity. Non-payment and non-registration are the only effective means to beat the tax and we encourage people to hold firm, ignore the government propaganda that will come and see that, by St Patrick’s Day, we can have hundreds of thousands refusing to register and make the tax unworkable.”