Pensions tax letters - handled badly and frightened older people

Sian Moloughney

Sian Moloughney

Letters from the Revenue Commissioners to 115,000 pensioners, telling them they may be liable to pay extra tax, were condemned by some of the older residents of Cashel this week.

The Nationalist took to the streets of the town to ask people what they thought of the letters, and the following furore which saw more than 30,000 phone calls to the Revenue Commissioners and more than 20,000 ‘walk in’ callers to offices around the country, in an attempt by pensioners to clarify their own circumstances.

There was a consensus in Cashel that the situation had caused great upset and should have been handled with more tact.

“The way it was done was very poor, because older people are very upset,” Pat Flynn told The Nationalist. Although he did not receive a letter himself he said he knows people who have - one person is so upset they can’t even talk about it.

He said he was sure his own tax affairs were in order because he had been self employed, before his retirement, and what he thinks happened in this case is that former PRSI workers who were used to having their tax deducted for them, were caught.

“There should have been a better way, there should have been a little bit of notice in the media. It’s crazy to say a media notice would have caused more panic,” Pat said, in response to one of the explanations by Revenue in the wake of the widespread upset, as to why there had not been an advertising campaign.

Pat Buckley, a retired garda, agreed with Pat. “I think it’s a disgrace the way it was handled,” he said, adding that the government are blaming the Revenue.

“It was frightening people, especially after Christmas and in the new year. The whole thing at the moment is very negative in the media,” he went on to say.

Sean O Duibhir said he knows of people who received letters and are now “in deep shock.” He said a lot of the publicity around the issue was worrying and disturbing people.

“At this hour of their lives retired people could do without this kind of thing. We accept the country is in a dire state but maybe other avenues could be explored,” he said of collecting extra taxes. “Coming on top of the property tax this is a double whammy, older people are more likely to have investment properties.

“I don’t think the Revenue could have caused any more upset than they did . I am mystified the computers are not talking to each other - I run three pharmacies and if the computers didn’t talk to each other I would be in trouble!”

Sean said that while he didn’t receive a letter it would not be his idea of ‘new year greeting.’

Paddy Butler said he thinks the whole affair was handled “very, very poorly by Revenue, by the people that should have known better.” He said it affected the most vulnerable in our society, elderly people, but he resigned himself to the situation: “it’s what we expect at the moment from the ‘top guys.’

“It’s poor to treat our most vulnerable the way they have. It’s frightening them and it’s hard enough with the cost of living at the moment.

“Nobody seems to know , they didn’t know themselves what was going on, someone made a boo boo,” Paddy said of the matter. “It’s all pushed under the carpet again because it’s the civil service. Heads should roll. The apology came too late, I don’t think it was genuine.

“They should have got their facts right before they started sending out letters. They are not going after the right people, people who paid a few bob all their lives, not the developers. The more vulnerable people in our society are easy pickings. The Revenue abused their power.”

Taking a balanced view of the matter, Michael Tattan said: “In my view the letters were probably not in the best taste, however I would say all pensioners, as all citizens in the country, are obliged to make returns on income that might prove to be taxable. If they had a pension other than the state pension they should have been able to do the simple mathematics to work out they were over the threshold.

“Lots of things in this country are taken for granted and abused, one thing is the free travel. No doubt there are people who need it, for example going for medical treatment, but I have been on a train and heard people talking about ‘going to Portlaoise for coffee with friends.’ There should be a charge of €5 to make them appreciate it.”

Michael went on to make more money-saving suggestions for the government saying they should abolish childrens’ allowance for people earning over €75,000.

“I didn’t get a letter but I can feel sympathy for the people that got them. Anything like that is a trauma. We are an age group that can be easily traumatised by such letters. This disruption in our lives could have been better handled.”

Revenue asked the Department of Social Protection for updated information on pension payments last year, which they received on December 1. When they compared the files with their own records, Revenue found mismatches in 150,000 cases taxed through the PAYE system. 115,000 people were sent letters informing them they had a “tax liability.”

Last week the chairperson of the Revenue Commissioners, Josephine Feehily, said they had to take immediate action to make sure arrears did not build up for the taxpayers.