Written Answers. - Collection of Moneys by Sheriffs.

Proinsias De Rossa

Ceist:

47 Proinsias De Rossa asked the Minister for Finance if, in regard to the concerns expressed by the Comptroller and Auditor General in his recent report regarding the manner in which Sheriffs, who collect taxes on behalf of the State, are holding these moneys and especially the cases highlighted in the report which included £25,000 being invested in the name of a Sheriff's wife in Post Office Savings Certificates, he intends to introduce new regulations to ensure that all moneys so collected are promptly handed over and that any return from moneys temporarily held in accounts by Sheriffs is passed on to the Exchequer; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Liam Fitzgerald

Ceist:

83 Mr. L. Fitzgerald asked the Minister for Finance if, in view of the huge sums of money that have been collected throughout the country by Sheriffs for the Revenue Commissioners and in view of the recent publicity whereby the spouse of one sheriff purchased some stocks and shares, the high interest earned on sums collected is taxable; if so, the amount of tax paid on such collections for each of the past five years; if it is not taxable, the reason therefor; and his views on whether the time permitted between collection of such moneys and their return to Revenue should be reviewed.

I intend to take Questions Nos. 47 and 83 together.

The remuneration of Sheriffs is governed by the Sheriffs Fees Orders 1926 to 1963 under which a Sheriff is entitled to 35p in respect of every certificate lodged with him and poundage of 5 per cent on the first £100 plus 2.5 per cent on the balance collected. Expenses for travel and seizure are payable in certain circumstances. The fees, expenses and poundage are payable by the defaulting taxpayer. As is the norm in financial transactions between solicitor and client, Sheriffs have at all times been permitted to retain interest on short term deposits. In effect, this interest has been a major source of their income. The operation would have become non-viable had they not been permitted to supplement their income with interest in this manner to defray the substantial costs they incur. A review of the statutory fees is in progress and I will be making recommendations to the Minister for Justice shortly for revised scales of fees. Once these fees have been improved to a realistic level, Sheriffs will no longer be permitted to retain interest on amounts held pending transmission to the Revenue Commissioners.

The relationship between the Revenue Commissioners and the Sheriffs is on a client/professional basis and is not such that conditions can be imposed on the sheriffs in relation to the location of funds which they are holding in trust on behalf of Revenue. Nevertheless, an agreement was reached with the Sheriffs in 1988 that funds would be held in a medium that permits immediate withdrawal, in full.

Sheriffs are required, under the terms of operational guidelines, to submit audit reports to Revenue at six-monthly intervals. The audit reports are examined and sheriffs are notified of any investments which are considered to present a risk to the Exchequer. In relation to the specific case referred to by the Deputies, the problem was resolved to the satisfaction of the Revenue Commissioners once it was drawn to the attention of the Sheriff in question.
The Revenue Commissioners are satisfied that no loss of revenue has occurred arising from the manner in which moneys are, or have been, held by the Sheriffs. In addition the Commissioners are satisfied that the Sheriffs are now complying with the requirements that all funds must be held in a medium that permits immediate withdrawal in full.
The House will appreciate that taxpayers are entitled to strict confidentiality in relation to their dealing with the Revenue Commissioners. Accordingly, I must accept Revenue's advice not to reveal any of the amounts of tax paid by the Sheriffs in the last five years as requested by Deputy Fitzgerald.
Income earned by the Sheriffs, including deposit interest, is of course taxable in the same way as the income of any other business, and the Sheriffs pay tax at the normal rates on the excess of income over deductible expenses. The high cost of operating the Sheriff's offices is the main deductible expense.