Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Ceisteanna (33, 50)

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

33. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if he expects the Revenue Commissioners to bring forward new guidance on flat rate allowances; when he expects it to be brought forward; the measures he plans to ensure lower and middle income earners are not adversely affected by changes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46675/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Pearse Doherty

Ceist:

50. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the categories of flat rate tax expense the Revenue Commissioners propose to abolish from the beginning of 2020; the anticipated increase in tax revenue arising out of the abolition of the certain flat rate expenses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46691/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (7 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Finance)

My question is largely a repeat of the first priority question on the flat rate expenses allowance. I wish to add to the points I made earlier that my main concern is we will be presented late in the day with a fait accompli. Will there be a report we can interrogate? Will we have the opportunity to review the evidence and ask questions before any changes kick in? It is a reasonable request, given the scale and significance it could have for many workers.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 33 and 50 together. It is a reasonable request. We discussed the matter earlier. I cannot commit on behalf of the Revenue Commissioners as to what they will do or what engagement they will have with the Oireachtas. Nevertheless, as soon as I have absolute clarity on the matter and the Revenue Commissioners respond to me, I will immediately make the information available to the Deputy.

I thank the Minister. With the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's indulgence, I will segue to another important issue. The Revenue online service, ROS, has again experienced problems this morning. My colleague, Deputy Brassil, raised the matter in the Chamber yesterday. I acknowledge that Revenue extended the deadline for online returns to 6 p.m. today.

I am told that the problems have now been fixed this morning after a recurrence of the issue. I want an assurance that no one will be adversely affected by these issues through the application of surcharges or any other penalty. Given that the system is clearly under pressure and struggling to take all of the returns, would it be better to extend the deadline to midnight on Friday? That would allow the returns to be spread over a further couple of days. It would allow time and space for people to get them in and for the system to have the capacity to handle them. Clearly, there is a significant issue. The first priority is to ensure no one will be penalised having tried to make a return that was unsuccessful through no fault of his own or her own.

Penalties and how they are levied are matters for the Revenue Commissioners. I know the reason Revenue made the decision to make the change for today. It was its determination ensure no taxpayer would be penalised as a result of the systems issue that had developed. As the Deputy knows and has acknowledged, efforts have been made to address and resolve the issue in the operation of the system which Revenue has made available for a further period. I have no doubt that if it decides further changes are needed and that more needs to be done to ensure the timely filing of tax returns, it will make the necessary arrangements. However, given the sensitivity of the matter for tax practitioners, not to mention to those who are paying their taxes, it is solely a matter for the Revenue Commissioners. I will leave it to them to update the public on the matter during the day.

I wish to come back in on that issue. There have been further problems this morning. That is the point I am making. The system was down again for a period this morning. Clearly, there are underlying issues and problems with the capacity of the online system to handle the number of submissions coming in at the same time. If they continue throughout the day, Revenue will have no option but to further extend the deadline. It seems that the most sensible solution would be to spread it out over several days. We all recognise the importance of ensuring the integrity of the system. People need to be assured that their returns have been received properly. It is important for the Exchequer that returns be made a timely manner and that they be accurate and fully uploaded onto the system. However, if the problem continues during the day, Revenue will have no option but to further extend the deadline. If it happens again, the Minister should be in direct contact to at least have a discussion with it.

I thank the Leas-Cheann for allowing me in. I also thank Deputy McGrath for raising the issue of flat rate allowances, an issue I have raised in the past with the Minister and Niall Cody at the Committee of Public Accounts. I know that the Minister has stated it is an administrative issue for the Revenue Commissioners and that he is awaiting the findings of a review, but the issue is causing concern, in particular among a large cohort in my constituency. I am referring to the brave miners at Tara Mines in Navan, the largest zinc mine in Europe, which employs 620 people. In previous reviews they actually enjoyed an increase, yet there is a genuine fear among them that it could be removed in its entirety. Last month I spent an entire day with the miners. We were 900 m underground in the belly of the mine which is the deepest spot in Ireland. I saw at first hand the harshness of the working conditions they experience. I call on the Minister to recognise that the allowances are genuine. Perhaps he might journey underground and join me and the miners in the belly of the mine. With Niall Cody, we could all go together to see the harshness of the working conditions experienced by the miners.

I thank the Deputy for the invitation, but I am well aware of how hard the work is for those involved in mining. I am also well aware of their concerns. I assure and inform them that the matter has also been raised with me by the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy McEntee, and the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, who are also being contacted by constituents about the issue. I hope the Deputy is aware that it is a matter for the Revenue Commissioners which are aware of its sensitivity. Deputy Michael McGrath was impartial and fair enough to acknowledge the importance of ensuring the integrity of the information technology system and its importance in collecting tax. Given the importance of ensuring tax returns are made properly and that there is no ambiguity about where taxpayers stand, responsibility for communication on the matter has to sit solely with the Revenue Commissioners. It is up to them to decide if further changes are required during the day. They have issued one communication on the issue. I am unaware of further changes, but if they happen, taxpayers and their representatives will need to listen to what they say on the matter.