Finance (Local Property Tax) (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2015:
Tuesday, 08 December 2015

During the second stage Seanad debate on the Finance (Local Property Tax) (Amendment) (No.2) Bill 2015, I said: I welcome the Minister of State and I have listened very carefully to what he said. I also checked the Department website and realised the amount of work put into this by Dr. Don Thornhill. He is somebody who has served the State well and even many years after that, he is willing to give time to it...

I mentioned another man yesterday, Dr. T.K. Whitaker, to whom I spoke last night and who is 99 today. I rang Dr. Whitaker to congratulate him and tell him that legislation which contemplates his 1985 recommendation in respect of a project relating to prisons passed Second Stage yesterday. That is a reminder of the people who serve the State well, even after their retirement.

I disagree with Senator Norris in this instance because I approve of this good Bill. I am particularly happy to see that the Government has delayed any review of property taxes until 2019. There are one or two issues nevertheless. Official figures recently indicated that more than 2,000 homeowners applied for an exemption from the local property tax based on the fact that their homes are affected by pyrite. Fewer than 80 people were successful in obtaining the exemption, which I do not understand. That is a success rate of only 5%. It is estimated that up to 20,000 houses could be damaged by this substance, as Senator Darragh O'Brien noted. I note the Minister for Finance indicated that many people were not granted the exemption as they did not "provide the required level of supporting documentation". Why is the onus on the homeowner to prove something? I am not sure if that principle makes sense. In particular, I do not understand why a homeowner must declare the value of the home in order to calculate the local property tax, and this figure is accepted by the Revenue Commissioners. If an exemption is requested, the homeowner is not believed and he or she must prove his or her case. This seems like something of a dichotomy because people whose homes are affected by pyrite may also be required to obtain an engineer's report, which could be extremely costly. The Minister of State touched on some exemptions but it is not fair to allow people to declare the value of their homes so that the information can be used by the Revenue Commissioners. At the same time, however, they are not believed when they state that their homes have been affected by pyrite. I would love to get a comment from the Minister of State on that matter.

What happens when a house is uninhabitable and people are seeking an exemption from the local property tax? It is relatively common that an older person may die and his or her house is left to go rack and ruin. The person who owns the house might ask for an exemption because there might be no electricity or water connection as a result of the fact that nobody has been living in it for several years. However, the Revenue Commissioners would not believe this information. People may be obliged to provide documentary evidence to support this declaration, such an engineer's certificate or photographs. At the same time, the Revenue Commissioners have confirmed that it is not possible for them to provide a prescriptive list of criteria that would need to be met for a property to be deemed unsuitable for use as a dwelling. In effect, the Revenue Commissioners make the property owner come up with all the information but will not even give the list of elements they would consider to render a house uninhabited. It is unfair as it does not look after the customer, who is the taxpayer.

With both of these cases - where a house has pyrite or is inhabitable - the Revenue should accept the homeowner's case and not presume that the customer is being deceitful.  The onus should be placed on Revenue. It if doubts a homeowner, it should send inspectors to ask questions. It is collecting masses of money through this new tax. It is estimated more than €1 billion will have been collected by the end of the year. I do not understand why Revenue allows a person to value his or her home and believes that figure for the most part but will not believe a person if he or she seeks an exemption. I would be interested in hearing the Minister of State's thoughts on that procedure.

The Minister of State is welcome. I like the Bill and what it aims to do, but there are some questions that need to be answered.

For the full text of the debate, please click here.

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