Income tax relief in respect of health expenses is allowable in accordance with section 469 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997. This legislation provides for tax relief for health expenses incurred in the provision of health care. Health care is defined for the purposes of that legislation as the prevention, diagnosis, alleviation or treatment of an ailment, injury, infirmity, defect or disability and includes care received by a woman in respect of pregnancy. Health care does not include routine ophthalmic or dental treatment. The section provides that tax relief must be either for the costs of the services of a practitioner, defined as a person registered on the register established under the Medical Practitioners Act 2007, or diagnostic procedures carried out on the advice of a practitioner, which includes “physiotherapy or similar treatment prescribed by a practitioner”. Eligibility for tax relief is limited to expenses relating to treatment considered necessary and appropriate by a qualified practitioner.
Section 469 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 consolidated all previous legislation pertaining to relief for health expenses, in particular section 12 of Finance Act 1967 which introduced the relief in the first instance. This section also required that physiotherapy or similar treatment be prescribed by a practitioner before qualifying for relief. This requirement has, therefore, been part of the qualifying criteria since the introduction of relief for health expenses and I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that guidance and instructions to staff have remained unchanged in this regard. For 2010 the cost of tax relief for health expenses was €127 million and was availed of by 368,000 individuals who had sufficient income to benefit from a claim. There is no specific breakdown in these figures of the costs related to physiotherapy.
If self-referral for physiotherapy were allowed, an estimate of the additional cost would be unquantifiable, but, undoubtedly, it would increase the overall cost of health expenses relief to the Exchequer. While the Government supports measures to lower the cost of medical treatment which should in turn lower the costs of health care provision by the State, an extension of the relief along the lines proposed would inevitably lead to calls for other treatments to similarly qualify for relief, which would greatly increase the overall cost of the scheme. I would point out that this issue was raised during the debates in the Seanad on Finance Bill 2013 during which I agreed to re-examine the matter during the course of this year.