If doctors receive fees from bodies such as health boards and they do not return details of these fees the remedy is clear. The health boards should return to the Revenue Commissioners details of the amounts paid each year to each doctor. These could then be compared with the income tax returns of the doctors. I do not know whether this was the practice prior to 1987 and, if not, it should have been.
I wonder if the Minister, and his predecessor, took into account the fact that we now have a self-assessment system and a system of payments on account of current tax. The withholding tax system is totally unnecessary now because professional people already pay tax on a current year basis and pay money up front on 1 November. There is a duplication and unnecessary complication in professional people estimating their payment on account for the current year and estimating the amount of withholding tax they will have to pay. This issue has to be looked at. I do not think there can be any possible gain to the Revenue Commissioners from this tax. If there is some gain, it is because it is being withheld from the gross income of professional people, particularly doctors who have to incur substantial expenses, for example, travelling expenses.
Doctors in rural and working class areas receive the bulk of their income from medical card holders which, in turn, comes from health boards. These doctors have been overpaying tax. A doctor who earns £40,000 a year, with £10,000 legitimate allowable expenses, will receive a net income of £30,000. However, as £35,000 of his income may come from the health board tax has to be deducted at the standard rate. At the end of the year these doctors have to pay more than the full amount of tax due. As a result, they have to go through the rigmarole of seeking a refund. From representations made to me, I know there can be considerable delays in making refunds. A doctor with a practice in a fashionable area such as Fitzwilliam Square who receives the bulk of his income from private patients makes a better living than a doctor working in a rural or working class area and does not have to pay as much in withholding tax. Perhaps it is too late to ask the Minister this question on Report Stage of this year's Finance Bill but, as a new Minister for Finance who may or may not be around this time next year, would he not agree that the whole measure is absolutely ridiculous?