Question No. 76 answered with Question No. 49.

Fuel Rebate Scheme

Ceisteanna (77)

Christopher O'Sullivan

Ceist:

77. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Finance if he has considered a restoration of the fuel rebate scheme to cover excise duty and carbon taxes for the coach operators whose services have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. [25662/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

If the Deputy is referring to the Diesel Rebate Scheme (DRS) for hauliers and bus operators, this scheme has been continuously in operation since 1 July 2013. Therefore the question of its restoration does not arise.   

The DRS is operated by the Revenue Commissioners, who will repay some of the mineral oil tax paid by a qualifying road transport operator when the diesel is:

- purchased by the business within the state

- used in the course of business transport activities; and

- used in qualifying motor vehicles.

To qualify for inclusion in the DRS, road transport operators must hold an appropriate road transport licence. This licence must be active in the claim period.

Further information in relation to the operation of the scheme including qualifying criteria, guidelines on the application process and quarterly repayment rates are available on the website of the Office of the Revenue Commissioners at the link below:

https://www.revenue.ie/en/companies-and-charities/excise-and-licences/mineral-oil-tax/diesel-rebate-scheme/index.aspx

As the Deputy will be aware, VAT registered businesses are also eligible to claim a refund on the VAT paid for diesel used in the course of business activities.  

Tax Code

Ceisteanna (78)

Seán Canney

Ceist:

78. Deputy Seán Canney asked the Minister for Finance if he will remove agriculture from the commercial definition rate of 7.5% in relation to stamp duty and revise in line with the residential stamp duty charge of 1% up to €1 million and 2% thereafter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26861/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

All land, including agricultural land, is classified as non-residential property for stamp duty purposes. Any re-categorisation of agricultural land by size or otherwise for the purposes of stamp duty, would not be appropriate as it would be inequitable in terms of providing agriculture with an additional advantage over other forms of business.

A number of stamp duty related reliefs which considerably reduce the applicable rate on agricultural land for qualifying acquisitions are currently available to the farming sector including Farm Consolidation Relief, the Young Trained Farmer Stamp Duty Relief and Consanguinity Relief.

I have no plans to amend the status of agricultural property for the purposes of stamp duty. 

Banking Sector

Question No. 80 answered with Question No. 64.

Ceisteanna (79)

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

79. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Finance his plans to have discussions with a company (details supplied) in relation to retain a bank and its network of branches here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26775/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

Ulster Bank Ireland is a significant employer with 88 branches and a significant market share in terms of mortgage lending and SME lending and it is important in terms of providing competition in the Irish market.   

I am aware of the media reports suggesting that NatWest is engaged in a strategic review of its operations including those of Ulster Bank Ireland. The Government has no formal role in such a review or any commercial decisions that result, as these are a matter for the Board and Management of the Bank and its parent company, NatWest.  I understand that the process is ongoing and that no decisions have been made.  I cannot comment further and will not speculate on the possible outcomes.

I have not met with Ulster Bank on this issue but the Deputy should be aware that I met with the CEO of Ulster Bank alongside the CEOs of the other retail banks and the BPFI yesterday to obtain information and assurances about their preparations for dealing with customers exiting payment breaks on a case by case over the coming months.

My officials regularly engage with banks including with Ulster Bank and they will continue to monitor the situation.

I would expect Ulster Bank Ireland to ensure that both customers and staff representatives are kept informed about developments in the review and are promptly informed about any decisions. The Bank will also have to keep the Central Bank of Ireland fully informed and comply with its requirements in its decision making process.

Question No. 80 answered with Question No. 64.

Wage Subsidy Scheme

Ceisteanna (81, 92)

Verona Murphy

Ceist:

81. Deputy Verona Murphy asked the Minister for Finance the status of the Revenue Commissioners compliance programme into the TWSS and EWSS; when he plans to publish the details of recipient firms online as stated in the legislation; if the details of all employees that have availed of either the TWSS and or EWSS will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26653/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Gerald Nash

Ceist:

92. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Finance his views on the need for involvement of social partners to ensure the effective oversight and implementation of taxpayer funded support to businesses via the employment wage subsidy scheme; if he has examined the operation of such schemes in Germany and other EU countries; if not, if a commitment will be given to doing so in the context of the promise of a German kurzarbeit scheme as part of the July stimulus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26738/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

The Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS) operated from 26 March 2020 to 31 August 2020 and supported over 66,000 employers in respect of almost 664,000 employees that were negatively impacted by the necessary Covid-19 related restrictions, at a cost to the Exchequer of over €2.8 billion.

The Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) replaced the TWSS from 1 September 2020 as the Government’s focus has shifted from an employee income support paid via the employer that maintained the existing employee/employer relationship insofar as was possible, to a direct employer subsidy to help support viable firms and encourage employment, including prospective employment of new hires and seasonal workers.

  I am aware that Revenue is carrying out compliance checks on the 66,000 employers who participated in the TWSS scheme to ensure they were eligible to receive the funds and crucially, that the supports were correctly paid to their employees. Revenue has advised me that compliance checks have been completed in respect of more than 23,000 employers to date representing almost 67% of employees that were supported by the scheme. The checks have confirmed high levels of compliance with the terms of the scheme by most employers. However, a relatively small number of cases have been identified as needing closer examination and these enquiries are ongoing. Where issues are identified, Revenue expands the examination to include the employer’s overall tax situation.

Regarding EWSS, Revenue has advised me that its current focus is to assist eligible employers with the registration process and to provide them with any support they might need in claiming their entitlements under the scheme.  As of 25 September, some 36,746 employers have successfully registered for the scheme and the intention is that payments in respect of September will be made in mid-October.  Revenue has also advised me that it has very recently made EWSS payments for July and August 2020 to almost 2,700 employers in respect of newly hired or seasonal staff that were not previously included in the TWSS. EWSS related compliance checks will start once the scheme is fully operational.

Regarding publication of TWSS recipients, Section 28 of the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020 provides that the names and addresses of all employers to whom a subsidy payment was made will be published by Revenue. However, the names of employers who registered for the TWSS but did not subsequently operate the scheme and did not receive any payments will not be published. Also, the details of employers who may have unintentionally applied for and received payments, or who sought to leave the scheme for other legitimate commercial reasons, will not be published providing the amounts received are repaid and all associated tax and PRSI issues are fully addressed. Revenue has advised me that the list of employers that received TWSS payments will be published as soon as possible once these employer related adjustments are finalised.

Regarding the EWSS, section 28B of the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020 provides that the names and addresses of all employers to whom a payment is made during the period July to December 2020, will be published by Revenue as soon as is practicable in January 2021. Publication of employers who receive a payment between January and March 2021, will be published as soon as practicable in April 2021.

The relevant legislation makes no provision for the publication of individual employees that benefited from either TWSS or EWSS payments.

I will continue to closely monitor the administration of the EWSS as well as the uptake and utilisation of this important economy-wide employment measure in the weeks and months ahead to with a view to ensuring that it achieves its objective of supporting viable enterprises and employers. I can also reassure the Deputy that as part of the policy development process relating to supports for business and employment retention, my Department and I take into account similar schemes in operation in other jurisdictions, including the specific one he mentions.

On the question of effective oversight and implementation of taxpayer funded support to businesses via the employment wage subsidy scheme, I would draw the Deputy's attention to the fact that, under section 28A(4) of the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020, as amended, I am obliged, as Minister for Finance, to monitor and superintend the administration of the wage subsidy scheme.

I would also point out that, as was the case with the TWSS, I will actively take into account the views of all stakeholders, including the social partners, as I seek to ensure that the EWSS remains an effective instrument in support of business and employment through the Covid-19 crisis. 

Primary Medical Certificates

Ceisteanna (82)

Seán Canney

Ceist:

82. Deputy Seán Canney asked the Minister for Finance the status of the primary medical certificates; his plans to expand the criteria for eligibility for persons to receive this assistance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26860/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I have been advised that a Supreme Court decision of 18th June found in favour of two appellants against the Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal’s refusal to grant the individuals Primary Medical Certificates (PMC). My officials are currently examining the judgement, in conjunction with the Attorney General’s Office, and will bring forward any policy and/or legislative proposals, as necessary, for my consideration in due course.

Mortgage Lending

Ceisteanna (83, 90)

Louise O'Reilly

Ceist:

83. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Finance if he will be liaising with banks that have withdrawn mortgages for couples due to the fact one of them has been put on the temporary wage subsidy scheme by their employer even though the person on the scheme will be reinstated to 100% of their wages once the scheme is completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17496/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Pádraig O'Sullivan

Ceist:

90. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Finance his plans to assist homebuyers that are being refused drawdown of approved loans to one or both borrowers due to being on the temporary wage subsidy scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26811/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 83 and 90 together.

I appreciate the concerns many people are experiencing about mortgage applications and drawdowns at this difficult time, and my Department is maintaining close contact with the Central Bank and Banking and Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI) as the lending industry works to address the difficulties caused by the Covid-19 situation. Also, the Central Bank has advised that it expects all regulated firms to take a consumer-focused approach and to act in their customer's best interests at all times, including during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lenders continue to process mortgage applications and have supports in place to assist customers impacted by COVID-19. The BPFI has published a Covid-19 Support FAQ document which customers can consult, or customers can contact their lender directly, if they have any queries or concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on their mortgage application (https://www.bpfi.ie/key-topics/mortgages-covid-19-support-faq/).

However, within the parameters of the regulatory framework below, the decision to grant or refuse an individual application for mortgage credit, or temporarily suspend a mortgage approval in principle, is a commercial and contractual decision to be made by the regulated entity and it is not appropriate or possible for me to instruct lenders in that regard. Furthermore, a loan offer may contain a condition that would allow the lender to withdraw or vary the offer if in the lender’s opinion there is any material change in circumstances prior to drawdown and, in such cases, the decision to withdraw or vary the offer is also a commercial decision for the lender.

The European Union (Consumer Mortgage Credit Agreements) Regulations 2016 (CMCAR) provide that, before concluding a mortgage credit agreement, a lender must make a thorough assessment of the consumer’s creditworthiness. The assessment must take appropriate account of factors relevant to verifying the prospect of the consumer being able to meet his or her obligations under the credit agreement and must be carried out on the basis of necessary, sufficient and proportionate information on the consumer’s income and expenses and other financial and economic circumstances. The CMCAR further provide that a lender should only make credit available to a consumer where the result of the creditworthiness assessment indicates that the consumer’s obligations resulting from the credit agreement are likely to be met in the manner required under that agreement. Also, the Central Bank’s Consumer Protection Code 2012 also imposes ‘Knowing the Consumer and Suitability’ requirements on lenders, which require lenders to assess affordability of credit and the suitability of a product or service based on the individual circumstances of each borrower. 

However, if a mortgage applicant is not satisfied with how a regulated firm is dealing with them, or they believe that the firm is not following the requirements of the Central Bank’s codes and regulations or other financial services law, they should make a complaint directly to the regulated firm. If they are still not satisfied with the response from the regulated firm, they can refer the complaint to the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Ceisteanna (84)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

84. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the extent to which he expects to be in a position to support ongoing and normal economic activity in the context of the forthcoming Budget notwithstanding the effect of Brexit and the Covid-19 virus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26670/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

As I announced on September 16th, Budget 2021 will continue to provide essential support for the sectors of our economy most in need.  This is in addition to the c. €24.5 billion that the Government has already committed to protect households and firms and to expand the capacity of the health sector.

Due to the prudent management of the public finances in recent years, we entered this crisis from a position of strength and resilience.  As a result, we are now able to run budgetary deficits in the short-term in order to provide counter-cyclical support to the economy and to promote the retention and creation of jobs. 

As the Deputy will be aware, the forthcoming Budget will be framed on two core assumptions. First, from the beginning of next year, the UK and EU will trade on WTO terms.  Second, in the absence of a vaccine, our economy and society must co-exist with Covid-19.

These assumptions are cautious and prudent. This is the right approach to take in a time of unprecedented uncertainty.  Government stands ready to provide the necessary support to ensure a robust and broad-based economic recovery from the unprecedented challenges we are now facing.

Legislative Measures

Ceisteanna (85)

Rose Conway-Walsh

Ceist:

85. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Finance the reason the Consumer Insurance Contracts Act 2019 has not yet been fully implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26805/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

The majority of the Consumer Insurance Contracts Act 2019 came into force from the 1st of September 2020, with 22 of the 27 sections now in operation.  The Act represents a major reform of insurance contracts and re-balances the relationship between consumer and insurer. It is my full expectation this will be positive for Irish consumers. For example, amongst other things, the Act obliges insurers to engage meaningfully with consumers when a claim has been submitted; places a limit on the amount of a claim settlement offer that an insurer can retain until repairs have been completed; and restricts the circumstances in which insurers can repudiate the contract on materially unrelated grounds.

While the majority of the Act is now law, I have made the decision that sections 8, 9, 12, 14(1)-(5) will come into effect on the 1st September 2021. It is important to note that significant systems changes are required by the industry before the related provisions could go live. Accordingly, the sections being commenced next year broadly relate to insurers' obligations to provide more detailed information when signing consumers up to a contract (Section 8), and providing greater consumer transparency about their  claim and premium history at renewal (Section 12). In turn, Section 9 and 14(1)-(5) are intrinsically linked to the information requirements set out in section 8 and therefore also require a longer commencement period. All of these significant new contract and renewal requirements will require insurers to upgrade their systems, which require time to implement because of the technical nature and scale of what will be required.

Separately, I will consider the commencement of Section 18 when a specific technical legal point has been resolved.

In conclusion my decision to implement the Act in this manner is based on my considered  judgement which recognises the significant impact some aspects of this Act has on insurers’ operations, whilst at the same time proceeding with the wider reforms this Act provides. This I believe is the most appropriate way forward for industry and consumers alike in these circumstances.

Currency Circulation

Ceisteanna (86)

Martin Browne

Ceist:

86. Deputy Martin Browne asked the Minister for Finance his views on the concerns in rural Ireland of the emergence of a cashless society; the accessibility issues that would give rise for some persons; his views on the way in which those that have traditionally only dealt in cash can be facilitated; his plans to address the concerns; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24433/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

The Deputy will be aware that the use of card payments, particularly contactless payments, has been encouraged in order to support public health policy following the outbreak of Covid-19 this year.

There has been a notable increase in the use of electronic payments during the Covid-19 pandemic. Figures released by the Banking and Payments Federation of Ireland show that daily contactless spending reached a new monthly high of €27.7 million in June of this year. The Central Bank’s payment statistics show that E-commerce expenditure for July was 16% higher than in the same month last year.

Notwithstanding a significant increase in electronic payments, cash remains a vital part of the Irish payment system and also helps to reduce financial exclusion across Ireland. A study undertaken by the Department of Finance in 2019 concluded that a fully cashless society would not be an appropriate policy objective.

As we continue to adapt to Covid-19, I am aware that a small number of retailers are choosing to only accept card and contactless payments in store. I understand that this may cause difficultly for consumers who do not have access to debit or credit card facilities. However, where retailers are accepting a limited range of payment options, consumers must be informed of the payment options available in advance of a transaction. This can be achieved by displaying signs at the store till or entrance. If a retailer does not clearly specify in advance of a transaction the means of payment they are prepared to accept, they must accept cash.

Since 2016 banks offering payment accounts are required to offer an account with basic features free of charge for at least one year to consumers who do not already have a bank account. These basic features include a debit card, direct debits and the ability to pay for goods and services online.

This means that unbanked customers in any part of the country are able to open a bank account whatever their personal financial situation. I would encourage anyone without access to an account to contact a bank about opening a basic bank account.

Help-To-Buy Scheme

Ceisteanna (87)

Seán Canney

Ceist:

87. Deputy Seán Canney asked the Minister for Finance his plans to extend the temporary help-to-buy scheme; his further plans to expand the scheme to include second-hand properties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26863/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

The Help to Buy incentive (HTB) is a scheme to assist first-time purchasers with the deposit they need to buy or build a new house or apartment.  The incentive gives a refund on Income Tax and Deposit Interest Retention Tax (DIRT) paid in the State over the previous four years, subject to limits outlined in the legislation. HTB was extended to the end of 2021 in Finance Act 2019.

The measure is designed to stimulate supply of new houses in the housing market and to assist first time buyers in accumulating a deposit for a new home. In order to help further meet these goals, I announced a temporary enhancement to the existing HTB scheme for the remainder of 2020 as part of the July Stimulus Package. The legislation to give effect to this is set out in the Financial Provisions (Covid-19) (No.2) Act 2020.

The enhanced level of support under the scheme, announced as part of the July Stimulus Package, applies to applicants who, on or after 23 July 2020 (and up to 31 December 2020), enter into a contract for the purchase of a new house or who make the first draw down of the mortgage in the case of a self-build. 

With regards to the Deputy’s question regarding the potential extension of the enhanced level of HTB support into 2021, With less than three weeks to go to the Budget, I am sure he will appreciate that I cannot comment on an issue that would have to be considered in the context of that Budget and the subsequent Finance Bill. 

In relation to second-hand properties, an increase in the supply of new housing remains a priority aim of Government policy. The HTB scheme is specifically designed to encourage an increase in demand for affordable new build homes in order to encourage the construction of an additional supply of such properties. If HTB were also available for second-hand properties, it would limit the incentive effect on the provision of additional supply. There are no plans to extend HTB to second-hand properties.

Bank Charges

Question No. 89 answered with Question No. 37.

Question No. 90 answered with Question No. 83.

Question No. 92 answered with Question No. 81.

Ceisteanna (88)

Verona Murphy

Ceist:

88. Deputy Verona Murphy asked the Minister for Finance if his attention was drawn prior to the announcement of the introduction of maintenance and transactions fees for customers by a bank (details supplied) with quarterly balances of €2,500 or less, which were previously exempt from charges; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26523/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

As the Deputy is aware as Minister for Finance I have no role in the commercial decisions made by the banks, including the structure and level of pricing for their various product offerings. This applies equally to the banks in which the State has a shareholding.

Decisions in this regard are the sole responsibility of the board and management of the banks which must be run on an independent and commercial basis. The independence of banks in which the State has a shareholding is protected by Relationship Frameworks which are legally binding documents that cannot be changed unilaterally. These frameworks, which are publicly available, were insisted upon by the European Commission to protect competition in the Irish market.

The AIB Relationship Framework can be found at the following link: 

https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/597d15-aib-relationship-framework-agreement-june-2017/

My officials have been provided with the attached helpful guide from AIB to reducing fees and charges which can be accessed at the following link:

https://aib.ie/content/dam/aib/personal/docs/fees-and-charges/a-guide-to-fees-and-charges-for-personal-accounts.pdf 

Question No. 89 answered with Question No. 37.
Question No. 90 answered with Question No. 83.
Question No. 92 answered with Question No. 81.

Tax Code

Ceisteanna (93)

Mairéad Farrell

Ceist:

93. Deputy Mairéad Farrell asked the Minister for Finance his views on whether it is appropriate that firms applying for section 110 status notify the Revenue Commissioners rather than making a direct application to the Central Bank which is the financial regulator, in view of recent scandals outlined in the FinCEN files (details supplied). [26638/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

There are a number of conditions which a company must meet in order to be regarded as a qualifying company for the purposes of section 110 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 (“TCA 1997”).

One of those conditions is that the company notifies Revenue of their intention to be a qualifying company by completing a Form S.110 no later than 8 weeks from the date the company commences its business as a qualifying company for the purposes of section 110 TCA 1997. As it is a requirement of section 110 TCA 1997 it is appropriate that the Form S.110 be submitted to the Revenue Commissioners.

However, as I advised the Deputy in my written reply to PQ 23601-20, in addition to the Revenue reporting requirements, under section 18 of the Central Bank Act 1971, all Irish qualifying companies are obliged to report quarterly data to the Central Bank. This is in addition to the reporting obligation which many such companies already have, where they are “Financial Vehicle Corporations”, to report quarterly data to the Central Bank under Regulation ECB/2013/40. This information is then reported to the European Central Bank. The European Central Bank statistics provide harmonised information on the securitisation market and can also be broken down by country.

Further information on the reporting requirements of Special Purpose Vehicles and Financial Vehicle Corporations is available at the websites of the Central Bank of Ireland and the European Central Bank respectively.