Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Questions (170)

Catherine Murphy


170. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Finance the number of instances where a complaint against the Revenue sheriff was lodged in the past ten years; of those, the number which were subsequently referred to the Revenue Commissioners; the number which were referred to the Joint Standing Committee of the Revenue Commissioners and the Sheriffs Association; the resolution achieved in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5174/14]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

The Revenue Commissioners are charged with responsibility for collection and recovery of a wide range of taxes and duties. I know that Revenue has a strong focus on making sure that everyone complies with their tax and duty responsibilities by paying the right amount and on time. Revenue expects businesses to continue, notwithstanding the difficult economic circumstances in which they are now operating, to maintain a clear focus and organise their financial affairs to ensure that tax debts are paid as they fall due. I know that Revenue is conscious of the difficult economic and financial climate and how it impacts on business in being timely compliant. For example, Revenue has actively encouraged businesses experiencing particular payment difficulties to work proactively with them when such difficulties start to arise to find an agreed way through the difficulties and quickly restore voluntary timely compliance.

As I have advised the Deputy in reply to previous questions on this issue, I am informed by Revenue that Sheriffs are officers of the Court, holding office under Section 12 of the Court Officers Act, 1945. Their debt collection activities are generally covered by the Enforcement of Court Orders Act, 1926, as amended and the execution of Revenue certificates is specifically provided for in Section 960L of the Taxes Consolidated Act 1997, as amended. When acting in execution of tax certificates, sheriffs are governed by the general law, which applies to the collection of civil debts of all kinds, and not by the provisions of the Tax Acts. They are not accountable to Revenue as regards the methods and techniques of enforcement but are answerable before the courts for any breach of the civil debt collection law. I am further advised that the Sheriffs have in place a Code of Practice, available from any sheriff or on Revenue's website, which sets out how Sheriffs will engage with taxpayers.  The Code also sets out the process whereby a taxpayer may make a complaint and how it will be handled. Therefore, data is not available to Revenue to respond to the Deputy s query in relation to the number of queries that were made against the Sheriffs in the last ten years.

I am advised that the Sheriffs Code of Practice was introduced on 1 November 2005. Data is not maintained by Revenue in a manner that would enable the provision of a response to the Deputy's query in relation to the number of complaints that were referred to Revenue over that entire period, however over the last three years eight such complaints were received and responded to by Revenue. Following receipt of the responses from Revenue to their complaints, none of the eight taxpayer requested that his/her complaint be referred for review by the Joint Standing Committee of the Revenue Commissioners and the Sheriffs Association (JSC).

It is important to note that the JSC is not, and does not purport to be, a judicial body. The Sheriffs Code of Practice is designed to provide an opportunity to taxpayers to resolve disputes without the necessity for the complainant to initiate Court proceedings. However, referral of any matter to the JSC should not in any way be taken as a diminution or a substitution for a taxpayer's common law rights, which are not impacted upon by availing of the process. The JSC undertakes a review of a complaint by means of an examination of all relevant documentation and correspondence relating to the taxpayer's complaint and the sheriff's response. A total of four complaints have been reviewed by the JSC since the introduction of the Sheriffs Code of Practice in 2005. There were a range of issues involved in these four complaints and the each taxpayer was notified of the findings of the JSC.