Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 8 July 2021

Public Accounts Committee

2019 Annual Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General and Appropriation Accounts
Vote 10 - Tax Appeals Commission
Chapter 14 - Management of Tax Appeals

9:30 am

Ms Marie-Claire Maney:

I thank the Chair and the committee and the Comptroller and Auditor General for the introduction he gave to the commission.

I commenced as the first chairperson of the commission on 1 July 2020. I am a member of both the senior public service and the legal profession. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to be a member of one unpopular group might be regarded as a misfortune; to be a member of two, I know, looks careless. Now to the serious business.

The O’Donoghue report of 2018 and the Comptroller and Auditor General report of 2019 were properly critical of the commission. They highlighted significant issues with the functioning of the commission and made a number of important recommendations. I am pleased to inform the committee today that all of the recommendations for the commission in both reports have now been implemented. I am pleased to inform the committee that there has been a notable and noticed improvement in performance.

In 2020, the quantum of appeals determined increased by over 900% to €610 million. This year, we are set to determine appeals of the same magnitude. In 2020, we scheduled hearings to a value of €1.5 billion. In 2021, we have, to yesterday afternoon, scheduled hearings to a value of nearly €2 billion. Critically, we have reduced the backlog of awaited determinations by 80% and the remaining 20% will issue before the end of the year. Of that, 5% will issue before the end of July.

Since our reopening in 2020, all appeals heard are decided within measurable deadlines. We now have 2,900 appeals. Since January 2020 and the Comptroller and Auditor General report, our appeals on hand have reduced by 14%, namely, 460 appeals. At any time a significant proportion, currently 40%, cannot be progressed because there is a lead case in the courts or parallel proceedings connected to an appeal, such as a judicial review, are ongoing. Since 2016, we have closed 6,100 appeals to a value of €2.7 billion, which has contributed to the economy, to the Exchequer, or both.

The top 20 appeals on hand amount to €3 billion and are actively managed.The committee has asked for the top 10 appeals by quantum, which are worth €2.8 billion and involve just five appellants. At the other end, some 1,100 appeals have a value of less than €10,000 each and amount to €3 million. Each appeal is important to each taxpayer, and hence, important to me as the chairperson.

What has brought about the improvements? The headline operational improvements include the following: the staffing was realigned by me and administrative staff were recruited; temporary legal researchers were engaged; the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer assumed our IT systems support; investment in new IT to support digitisation was made; capability for remote and blended hearings was introduced; a simpler notice of appeal and statement of case was published; a modern website with search capability was launched; and the tender specification for a case management system was completed. I am pleased to inform the committee that we have recently received sanction from the digital oversight unit to go to tender.

In terms of headline governance improvements, a number of governance deficits were highlighted in the reports and so a full suite of required formal policies was completed. A governance framework, service level agreements and an actively managed risk register are now in place. All signage now complies with the national language Act. A recovery and resilience plan, an annual business plan and an accessible three-year statement of strategy were completed. The annual report was issued to the Minister for Finance in March, with publication in April 2021. Strict timelines for issuing determinations are overseen by me. Judicial reviews against the commission have been resolved, and as importantly, guidelines to avoid recurrence were compiled and no further litigation has arisen. I have had meetings with the Minister for Finance and all other relevant stakeholders.

In terms of future improvements and looking to the future structure, I am also an appeal commissioner. I have personally determined the highest value appeal to date at nearly €600 million. I have also determined appeals of less than €600. That wide spectrum of appeals encapsulates the challenge. There is no other quasi-judicial body, or even a court, dealing with such a range, from the volume of the Small Claims Court to the complexity and quantum of cases in the Commercial Court, and everything in between. As such, I submitted a proposal to the Department of Finance for a new tiered commissioner structure to match the appeals’ case base. I am pleased to inform the committee that sanction has been given, and hence, that tiered approach will start to align the case base. The O’Donoghue recommendation for the State to consider mediation and alternative dispute resolution, as is found in the UK, has considerable merit. I support this recommendation.

Finally, I want to thank my small staff - the anchor, rota and remote teams - and commissioners for their adaptability, esprit de corpsand hard work during this last unique year, and for their co-operation after a five-month closure to ensure the smooth resumption of hearings, both remote and physical, on 4 August 2020.

The commission has made progress, but there is some way to go before it has the required throughput and output relative to the case base, contributing to the economy and the Exchequer. I am committed to that endeavour.

I am joined this morning by my colleague, Mr. Paddy O’Keeffe, head of corporate affairs.