I am advised by Revenue that the 'property tax letters' to which the Deputy refers in his Question relate to arrears of Household Charge (HHC) as distinct from Local Property Tax (LPT).
For the Deputy's information, with effect from 1 July 2013, Section 156 of the Finance (Local Property Tax) Act 2012 (as amended) converted HHC to LPT, increased all outstanding liabilities from €100 to €200 and made Revenue responsible for the collection of those outstanding amounts.
As part of the handover of responsibility for the collection of the HHC, Revenue received the Household Charge Register from the Local Government Management Agency (LGMA) and cross referenced it with its own LPT Register to produce a database of properties for which the liability is still outstanding. The cross referencing of the two registers confirmed that the HHC was paid in respect of 1.27 million properties from a total of 1.69 million properties listed on the LPT Register (other than Local Authority/Social Housing). Revenue has, as part of its extensive communications strategy, repeatedly confirmed that the database could not be 100% accurate, the main reasons being that:
- The LGMA Register captured the name of the person who physically paid the HHC rather than the owner of the property, for example, where a son or daughter paid the liability on behalf of a parent.
- The legislative basis for both the HHC and LPT are different. Some properties that are liable for LPT were exempt from the HHC and, unlike LPT, property owners were not actually required to make a claim for exemption from HHC. For that reason, Revenue could not identify every property that was exempt from HHC through the cross-referencing process.
- Certain payments made directly to Local Authorities were omitted from the LGMA Register.
The Deputy will appreciate that it is absolutely essential from a fairness perspective to the vast majority of house owners who have paid both the HHC and LPT that Revenue follows through on those who have not and that is why it issued the letters in question. Revenue has confirmed to me that the letters were specifically worded to achieve four separate objectives:
- advise the property owner that the property is on the arrears database,
- advise any property owner (on the database) who had paid the HHC or whose property was not liable for the HHC to contact Revenue to correct the information on record,
- advise correctly liable persons to pay the outstanding charge thereby preventing additional interest accruing, and
- advise correctly liable persons of the next steps that Revenue will take to collect the charge in the event of continued non-compliance.
To assist people in making payment or amending inaccuracies in the information, Revenue has developed a new online service that can be accessed using the Property ID and PIN codes included on the letters in question. The system, which is an extension of the LPT online facility, is available 24 hours a day and is very intuitive and easy to use. It includes the full range of payment options that are available for LPT and allows people to record any entitlements to exemptions or waivers from the HHC. Alternatively, for property owners who prefer direct contact, Revenue has extended its LPT Helpline service at 1890 200 255 from a 9am/5pm basis to an 8am/8pm basis.
I am advised by the Revenue Commissioner that it is not possible at this stage of the campaign to provide data on the number of letters which were sent to people who had already paid the HHC. However, I am also informed that to date about €2m. was collected in 2013, €13.8m has already been collected in 2014, of which €8.2m was paid since Revenue's compliance campaign began on 17 April 2014 and the Commissioners continue to receive approximately 3,500 to 4,000 payments of HHC arrears every day which suggests a low error rate.
I am very satisfied with the approach Revenue has taken to collect the outstanding HHC liabilities including, identifying those who correctly owe the payments, clearly communicating the approach adopted and providing extended customer support through innovative IT development and additional Helpline hours.