Pay up or pay the penalty, was the message from county manager Billy McEvoy, in relation to the household charge which he referred to as a ‘fact of life’ and now part of the ‘law of the land’.
At this month’s meeting of South Tipperary County Council the controversial €100 charge, brought in this year as an interim measure before a more progressive property tax is to be introduced at a later date, sparked further debate. Mr. McEvoy said that the charge must be paid and if householders refuse to do so they will face severe penalties. He also highlighted the impact that non-payment would have on the services offered by local authorities. While the money is collected centrally, it will be distributed locally, he explained. “This is very important from the point of view of the local authority. Exchequer funding to the Local Government Fund has been replaced by income of the household charge and if that is not realised then it will have implications on local authority funding.
“Roads, street sweeping, water services, that is what the charge will go towards, as well as supporting our festivals, libraries, museums, sports partnerships and our heritage,” he said.
“The charge is due and it is a fact of life. If it is not paid, there will be penalties.” For example, he highlighted, a 10% penalty will be added after six months late; 20% will be added if the delay is between six and 12 months; and a penalty of 30% will be imposed if the delay is greater than 12 months. As well as these late payment penalties, a 1% interest charge will be added per month. So if you are 12 months late paying the charge, it will end up costing you €142 instead of €100.
It is envisaged that the household charge will bring in approximately €160 million in revenue this year, with 1.6 million households nationwide expected to pay, but up to February 1, one month after its introduction, just over 68,000 households had registered. Mr. McEvoy was unable to answer specifics about the number of households in South Tipperary that had registered and paid the charge but it is expected that income from the charge will make up about 15% of South Tipperary County Council’s Local Government Fund - that is approximately €2.5 million.
Mr McEvoy acknowledged the slow uptake of payments so far and said that as well as online, a method chosen by 80% of those who had paid, people can now pay at the offices of Clonmel Borough Council, Tipperary Town Council, Carrick-on-Suir Town Council and Cashel Town Council as well as the Cahir area office. People have been able to pay at the County Council offices in Clonmel since the introduction of the charge. Mr. McEvoy said that they anticipated a significant increase in payments as the March 31 deadline approaches, so these offices have been added to cater for this.
Despite proclamations to the contrary by the two Workers and Unemployed Action Group (WUAG) members, Cllrs Billy Shoer and Pat English - who vehemently oppose the charge - most council members were of the view that it was a necessary payment.
Cllr English will not pay the charge and said that he will go to jail if it came to it. And Cllr Shoer said that just because someone in Germany says that it is the law, doesn’t mean that we should say ‘Heil Hitler’. Making the point that we have a democratic right to oppose the tax, he said: “We are not sheep, we are Irish men who fought to be able to say no.”
But addressing Cllr English, Cllr Tom Acheson said that he would have expected that kind of thing from him.
“You have always been looking for a spread in the tax base, here we are trying to do that and you are encouraging people to break the law.” “This has more to do with Seamus Healy’s re-election campaign than paying a tax. I am disappointed with you, no one wants to pay this charge but if you have a better idea then tell us,” he said.
Cllr Eddie O’Meara said that if anyone comes to him looking for advice on whether to pay the charge, he is advising them to pay and said that any public representative who says to do otherwise is acting irresponsibly.
Cllr Darren Ryan agreed saying that this money will keep the county open and with services provided.
“It is that money that will keep the streets clean and the grass cut, yes nobody wants to pay tax but we have to be real,” he said, pointing out that there are exemptions to the charge.
Cllr Sylvia Cooney Sheehan however said that she felt that the €100 charge is not spread evenly.
“We know there are exemptions and waivers and we will always have them, but they don’t protect the people who have defaulted on their mortgage. They are surviving so badly, why are they not exempt? “The Councils are exempt from paying the charge, people living in council-owned houses do not have to pay the charge, even though there may be four wages in one of those houses, they won’t have to pay,” she said.
“I am so sick of this unfair tax, people are losing their homes, yet are being told that they can’t be exempt because they are a property owner.” Cllr Ryan immediately retorted saying the fully empathised with Cllr Cooney Sheehan but said that he believed that her comment about people living in council-owned properties was very unfair.
“They are paying their way, paying their taxes and paying their rent to the local authority and it is unfair to say that people in council houses are getting everything for free,” he said. But Cllr Cooney Sheehan clarified that she had never said that and was simply making the point that people who have defaulted on mortgages are still expected to pay the charge.