I move amendment No. 3:
In page 6, subsection (2), line 28, to delete paragraph (a) and substitute the following:
"(a) €100, and shall not exceed €100 without an amendment to this Act,”.
This relates to the €100 charge that is being imposed by the Minister and the subsequent powers under regulation to amend the charge, but let us look at the fee of €100 before we discuss the amendment specifically. Before the last general election, the Fine Gael Party stated: "The initial flat rate charge means that owners of houses in standard neighbourhoods will pay as much as the owners of mansions". It went on to state: "It will be difficult to pay for asset-rich but income poor households, particularly the elderly and the unemployed". That was said by the Fine Gael Party before the election. Our amendments give the Minister of State the opportunity to support those points. We are trying to facilitate the Government.
The Fine Gael Party also stated that "it will be deeply unfair for a young generation that paid exorbitant amounts of stamp duty and VAT on the purchases on over-valued houses, many of whom now find themselves in negative equity" to pay those charges. Prior to the general election Fine Gael agreed with our amendments, therefore, I appeal to the Minister to examine his conscience and our amendments and step up to the mark and let us all work together. We would have no difficulty in working with the Minister from his standpoint of last January and February. At that time, the Fine Gael Party proposed, instead of the introduction of the €100 charge on households, that additional revenues be taken from inherited wealth through the following measures, as addressed yesterday in the budget: a cut in the capital acquisitions tax threshold by at least 20%, now reduced to €250,000, and an increase in the rate from 25% to 30%. That is the first step of the pre-election promise. There would be an increase in the holiday home or second home tax to €300, bringing in the additional €100.
I appreciate the current economic difficulties which the country is facing. Before the general election it appeared that those who were unemployed and in negative equity, having paid stamp duty, should be exempted from the household charge but it appears the position is now different. On the other hand, the Labour Party, prior to the general election, was opposed to the introduction of a household charge on the basis that it was unfair and inequitable.
In January 2011, the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, stated that a flat charge, where two, three and four bedroom properties from all around the country, pay the same charge is the unfairest possible way of all to introduce a property tax. A number of months on, power appears to bring changes and we are in a position where a €100 charge is being introduced in respect of all properties.
We have no difficulty in supporting the principle of widening the tax base but we cannot support the principle of penalising those who cannot afford to pay. Our later amendments will refer to that issue.
In regard to the amendment, section 3(2) and (3) states:
(2) The sum specified in accordance with this section shall be -
(a) €100, or
(b) where a sum stands prescribed for the time being under subsection (3), that sum.
(3) The Minister may from time to time review the sum specified in accordance with this section and, having regard to any change in the consumer price index -
(a) since the commencement of this section, or
(b) where a sum stands prescribed for the time being under this subsection, since the date on which that sum was prescribed,
What that means is that the Minister, from time to time, having regard to the consumer price index, could increase the fee, depending on inflation and other forces from outside the State. We are not willing to support that section because it provides for a regulation to introduce a household charge at €100. I appreciate what the Minister said in respect of a €100 charge in 2012 and 2013.
However, a property based tax may be fairer on the less well-off and those who may not own a high profile property. If we approve the legislation in its current format, we are giving the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the power to increase the €100 household charge at any time to a figure of his own reckoning. That is unacceptable. We find it hard enough to accept the €100 fee for those who can afford to pay but we cannot support a position where the Minister has been given the power under regulation to make those changes.
A couple of amendments which are related are being discussed together; one is in the name of Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh which we support. They all relate to the consumer price index. Section 3(6) reads:
In this section "change in the consumer price index" means the difference between -
(a ) the All Items Consumer Price Index number last published by the Central Statistics Office before -
(i) the commencement of this section, ...
We are giving too much power to the Minister, including the power under regulation to increase the fee. We cannot support that. The public need to know that if there is €100 household charge in 2012 and 2013, painful as it is for those who should pay it, the people we have identified should not pay it. The people who would pay it need to plan their finances in the next two years. We cannot have a situation where people are living in fear that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government could change the fee to €150, €200 or €220 by way of regulation without coming before the Oireachtas. We cannot support that.