I am not saying that the Minister, Deputy Hogan, is responsible for that but he is at the top of the food chain within the Department. There seems to be something of a trend starting here, that highly contentious and unpopular taxing measures on the public are being announced at inconvenient times with the result that we are not allowed an opportunity to respond adequately in the correct forum. The Minister might acknowledge that and take it on board for some of the other measures that are coming down the tracks.
The Minister mentioned the EU-IMF agreement, the memorandum of understanding and the four year plan entered into by the previous Government. It is worthwhile reminding him that when in opposition, both he and the Government parties opposed the four year plan tooth and nail. With might and mane, they voted against it and they articulated against it at every opportunity. Now the Minister finds himself in the opposite position where he is cheerleading it.
It is worth reminding the Minister that the four year plan was based on a deficit reduction to 2014, and that is now stretched out to 2015. It could be argued with a degree of legitimacy that many of the measures which were included in the four year plan are no longer relevant and do not have to be met within the timeframe indicated because the Government dragged them out to 2015.
It is also noteworthy that my party, and I am sure the Minister, and all of the other political parties within the Oireachtas, have met the troika. The troika is at pains on every occasion we meet to tell us that once the bottom line adjustments are made over the intervening years to bring the deficit down to 3% of GDP by 2015, it does not mind how they are made. It is my party's contention that the household charge is not the correct way to proceed at this point in time.
My party is opposing this legislation on the basis upon which it is presented unless it is significantly amended to provide for additional waivers and exemptions to the many hard-pressed citizens and communities across Ireland. The Bill, as presented, does not provide for enough exemptions.
As a party, Fianna Fáil recognises the principles of property tax and of broadening the tax base, but the household tax, in its current form, with the limited number of exemptions and waivers, is highly regressive and a blunt instrument. There is no logic in levying the same amount of property tax on a person living in Ailesbury Road as on a person locked into an apartment in Adamstown or a person living on an island off the west coast. We need a fundamentally different approach and to take a step back. We need to consider the charge in a constructive manner along the lines mooted in respect of a site valuation tax.
The Minister said he hopes to raise €160 million. Last week, he was representing us at a completely different forum, namely, the climate change conference in Durban. When the budget was presented last week, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, said the household charge would raise €100 million. It has been mooted consistently that the charge will raise €160 million, which is to be ring-fenced for local authorities. When the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government gets a chance, he might consult the Minister for Finance and clarify the matter. Late last week, the environment correspondent of the Irish Independent, Treacy Hogan, a fairly reputable and up-to-date environment journalist, rightly pointed out the discrepancy because €60 million is not insignificant. The Minister for Finance has one take on the matter and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government is flagging a different sum of money.
The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government referred to the NPPR charge. His last point, that somebody paying the NPPR charge will be subject to a charge of €10 if paying over the counter, is completely ridiculous. That a person who presents himself at a local authority to conduct a face-to-face transaction, rather than posting a money order or cheque, will be subject to a surcharge of €10 is completely ridiculous. I cannot see the logic. The Minister is effectively saying he does not want over-the-counter transactions or human interaction.
With regard to the principle of applying the household charge to properties that are already subject to the NPPR charge, there is a fundamental injustice. The same person is being taxed twice on the same property. That is inherently unfair and will have to be teased out a little further on Committee Stage.
The Minister is well aware of the debate on pre-1963 units at the time of the introduction of the NPPR charge. I refer to the properties divided into multiple bedsits, all of which are liable to the charge. It is likely they will also be liable to the €100 household tax although the entire property will be held under a single Land Registry folio number. The Minister's party took this up during the debate on the NPPR charge and was against it. Now that it is in government, it is not against it although it is in a position to do something about it. This represents an inherent contradiction.
At the time of the NPPR charge debate, the then Minister, Mr. John Gormley, informed the House that the NPPR charge would be allowable against rental income as a business expense. People took him at face value. The Revenue Commissioners, which have taken a decision on the matter, are now disallowing it. What is the position on the household charge? Will it be allowable as a business expense? We want clarity on it.
The Minister stated he has created a number of categories of exemptions and waivers. They are pretty limited and we have an issue with this. Will the Minister expand on the waivers as opposed to exemptions? He mentioned that people in receipt of mortgage interest supplement will be entitled to a waiver and also those who live in a unit listed in a published schedule of unfinished housing estates. Will a waiver be partial or in the order of 100%? Will there be various categories in that some people will get a waiver of 50%, 60% or 70%? Will the Minister enlighten us on that when he can?
We will be tabling a number of amendments along the lines of those introduced in the Seanad. We have an issue with increasing the charge to reflect increases in the consumer price index. We feel any increase should require legislation in the Oireachtas.
The categories of persons in respect of whom exemptions and waivers should be expanded further include persons who hold a medical card. We tangled with the people who held medical cards and paid the price for it. There are those who rightly qualify for medical cards and my party believes a person who holds a full medical card should not be paying the household charge. People on social welfare, jobseeker's allowance, jobseeker's benefit, supplementary welfare allowance, the family income supplement and farm assist payments should also be entitled to an exemption from the payment of the household charge. Old age pensioners, many of whom are medical card holders, are being made pay the charge. They are in their twilight years, in retirement, and have made their contribution to the State. Many of them retired with no private pensions whatsoever and live only on the State pension. They should, therefore, also be exempted, as should those on the disability allowance, disability benefit and the blind pension.
The Minister created an exemption for people on mortgage interest supplement. The budget last week tightened up on this so the category of people affected is being squeezed. We feel the Government, which has not acted yet on the Keane report, should exempt people who are in mortgage arrears and those in negative equity. I refer also to those who can show, through independent certification, that they have not been able to make 75% of their mortgage repayments, or who can show, again through independent certification, that their property is worth less than 75% of its market value at the time of purchase — in other words, that they are in negative equity. These people should also be exempted.
I want clarity on shared ownership. I do not know whether the Minister mentioned it in his speech.
We want to see an exemption for households suffering on foot of the pyrite issue. This is a very topical issue. It is not one that affects my constituency, thankfully, but it affects many houses in the greater Dublin area. There was a commitment made by the Government parties, namely, the Labour Party and the Fine Gael Party, to deal with that issue comprehensively. An exemption would recognise the problems faced by the affected householders.
It was rightly stated that the budget was distinctly anti-rural.
The Minister should consider giving rural dwellers who will have to pay €50 registration charge for septic tanks an annualised offset of €10 against the household charge to redress the imbalance we are creating for rural dwellers. This will allow him to answer the charge that he is anti-rural.
This budget has been exceptionally anti-rural. The Government is discriminating against rural communities with its cuts for small schools, school transport, rural Garda stations and the changes to the family income supplement, disadvantaged area payments and farm assist. The household charge will impact further on rural society.
The Minister is a practical politician——