Household charge to be collected 'relentlessly'
on 20/08/2012 00:00:00
A war of words is simmering in communities where funds for facilities are being slashed because of low rates of collection of the charge. In some counties, nearly half of homeowners still refuse to pay the €100 levy. Others have complied but still face punishment with local cuts.
There have been protests, hate mails, confusion over collecting the levy and bitter words exchanged. But the scene is bound to get uglier with potentially huge numbers of non-paying property owners dragged before the courts this year.
Local Government Management Agency chief executive Paul McSweeney says he understands that some families are facing financial difficulties.
However, the Dublin man tells the Irish Examiner in an interview that he intends to rake in the full €160m from the household charge.
Setting up a property database for it was not easy, he says. "We intend to collect every penny of it, steadily, incrementally and relentlessly," he says.
"I have friends who are unemployed, I have friends who are struggling. I know this. But the Government has told us this must be paid. They are under pressure from the troika; the troika are beating them over the head.
"It won't go away, there's no write-off here. It is inevitable that some people are going to be brought to court because we don't have a choice in the matter."
A third set of warning letters targeting all property owners, rather than just landlords, will be sent out in September.
"Once we go to three letters, we have to seriously look at taking court proceedings. If people we have identified choose not to pay it, then undoubtedly some proceedings will be initiated," he said.
"We have taken advice from the law agents in the local authorities on this. We are looking at what will be required," he added.
But Independent Donegal TD Thomas Pringle, who opposes the levy, says the agency and councils are unlikely to take hundreds of thousands of property owners to court.
"They [the LGMA] are going out to try and frighten as many people as possible. Thousands of these letters have also gone to people who've already paid."
But more sinister elements have now entered the debate.
Gardaí are investigating the sending of a shotgun cartridge to a senior member of staff in the LGMA. Mr McSweeney also says he has become the focus of hate mail and online threats.
"I got thrust into the public eye and that was never the intention. You are carrying out the lawful instructions of the Oireachtas which a minority of people find offensive, then some people will decide that they're going to make their feelings known in a strong way," he said.
Some 1,000,017 properties have been registered to date. But 600,000 have yet to be registered by owners, a job that may go to Revenue when it takes over collection of the levy next year.
"Revenue don't deal in cash, where local authorities do deal in cash. A lot of people may still want to pay in cash and they're going to have to deal with this."
Suggestions that the new property tax, which will take over from the charge, could amount to several hundred euro per property means that owners with more than one may have difficulty paying. The LGMA has advised Revenue to allow owners to pay the tax in instalments.
"You need to do that because if people are paying a few hundred euro per property, you have to be able to spread that out a bit, and through different mechanisms," Mr McSweeney said.
There's also the question of when local authorities - some having pulled in large amounts in charges - will see the fruit of their work.
"We collect the money. It goes to the Department of Environment. The department use equalisation methods. We distribute that back out to the local authorities."