I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Cuffe, for being here and the Cathaoirleach for choosing my Adjournment matter.
I want to raise an issue in relation to the second home charge, which is very simple. Many people have been acknowledging the fact for the past year or more that they have second homes. This is a voluntary disclosure and people are making it willingly. Around this time last year many people would have made their first payment of €200. They are now getting notices three months after the July deadline to the effect that their second payment was due then, and they are having penalties imposed of €20 a month, equivalent to about €60 in many cases.
Confusion has arisen from the fact that this payment did not start at a particular point in the year. Therefore, if a person had paid around this time last year, he or she would assume the payment was to be made about this time this year. If one is taxing one's car or renewing car insurance, a television licence or dealing with any of the normal annual charges one is presented with a warning notice, perhaps a month in advance. In the case of the second home charge, despite the fact that people have come forward and want to be in the legal system, there is no prior warning that the deadline is looming. It might be argued that there are advertisements on television and in the newspapers saying the payment must be made, but if one has made such a payment, and on the basis of every other type of annual payment awaiting notice from the local authority or the body responsible before paying the second instalment, the concern is understandable.
The reason I raise this issue is that I believe many people are being unfairly penalised and not because of something they deliberately tried to avoid. Perhaps there are people who have yet to declare they have a second home, but I am referring to people who have come forward and want to be legal and in the system. They believe they are in the system, and yet the local authority cannot be pre-emptive and warn them. It can, however, be reactive and issue a notice saying they are three months in debt and that there is a €60 fine on top of the €200 payment that has to be made.
A number of people have approached me and asked me to do their payment. The system in place at the moment is far from user-friendly. I commend the people in the local authorities dealing with the fall-out because the system is not one that people can cope with very easily. Unless one has been very assiduous as regards pin numbers, passwords etc. it can be difficult and many people are in genuine difficulty at the moment in this regard. I should like to see a much more simplified system. I believe the local authorities could collect this charge as it does motor tax and other levies. People should get a warning before, not after the event and the cases of those who have been awarded penalties of €20 a month should be looked into where their status has already been declared. If someone is found to have a second house who did not declare this last year, that is different, but I know of many people who wanted to be within the system and genuinely cannot understand why they are being warned after the deadline that they now owe €60. That might not sound like a good deal of money, but for the people I am talking about many of those second homes have not been let. Many have been let at a much reduced rate compared to other years. Every cent and euro has been battled for and many might have sold a second home were it not for the fact that its value had depreciated significantly and they now find themselves in negative equity.
I am looking for a commonsense response to this matter and I am asking for a consumer-friendly approach in relation to the system.