Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 16 November 2022
Select Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach
Business of Select Committee
The Minister for Finance is an ex officiomember of this committee for the purposes of the consideration of this legislation. The Minister shall be counted for the purposes of determining a quorum. In dealing with the Bill, the Chairman's role is identical to that of the Ceann Comhairle in the Dáil. Tradition prevents the Chair from intervening in favour of or against any particular amendment. Impartiality is required, as we know, and this also applies to a temporary Chair.
Apologies have been received from Deputy Mairéad Farrell. Deputy Ó Murchú will substitute for her. I welcome members and any viewers who may be watching our proceedings on Oireachtas TV to the public session of the Oireachtas Select Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. Parliamentary privilege is considered to apply to the utterances of members participating online in a committee meeting when their participation is from within the parliamentary precincts. For this purpose, the parliamentary precincts are considered to be the accommodation assigned to the member in the Leinster House complex or its vicinity or another location in Leinster House or Leinster House 2000. Please note that members may participate remotely in proceedings held in public only from the locations listed above, as privilege for their utterances only applies when participating from those locations. It is also important to note that, in order to participate in a division of the committee, members must be physically present in the committee room.
On behalf of the select committee, I welcome the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe. To give some idea of our modus operandi, in order to provide for the smooth running of the meeting, any Member acting in substitution for a member of the committee should be formally notified to the clerk now. We already have referred to Deputy Ó Murchú in this regard. Divisions will be taken as they arise. Members attending this meeting in accordance with Standing Order 106(3) should be aware that, pursuant to that Standing Order, they may move their amendments and request a division but cannot participate in the voting on that amendment. That relates to non-members.
Please note that we must finish consideration of the Bill today. There is a grand phrase. It gives us all an enlightened approach to the proceedings ahead of us. I propose we suspend for a break from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. and later suspend for another break from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. After that, we will play it by ear. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I will remind the Minister of the amendment I have proposed. It is worth reading into the record. I am looking for "a report on amending the guidelines in relation to section 481 (Film Tax Relief), to clearly define the requirement for producer companies in receipt of the relief to be the legally responsible employer for all those working on film productions funded by the relief as against the DAC which only has a temporary existence; and further to guarantee the full vindication of workers rights under the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act 2003; and further to ensure genuinely equitable remuneration for performers and actors in relation to their intellectual property rights and full compliance with the EU copyright directive."
Last night, I explained as best I could-----
I tried to explain the reason for this amendment last night. In response, the Minister pretty much said that I was painting a very grim picture of the Irish film industry and that I had not acknowledged that we produce wonderful films. I will respond to that first because it is important. Anybody can look at the transcript of what I said yesterday and will see that I began my contribution by arguing at length that we need to put more money into arts and culture, including film, and that we are undervaluing the extraordinary talent we have in this country and our incredible tradition, unparalleled for a country of our size, of poetry, art, writing, acting, theatre, film, music and so on. I said all of that so it is unfair to suggest for a moment that I do not recognise this. It is quite the contrary. The reason I am putting this forward is because I recognise and greatly value the creative people we have in this country and want to see arts and culture valued more. I want to see more investment in them. I believe there is a lot more potential there. However, critical to that is truly valuing the people who make those films.
The Minister said that I should "come up with a better metaphor" than the one I used, which was that the designated activity companies, DACs, are mushrooms that pop up and then disappear. He suggested that they flower. Whether it is a mushroom or a flower, the issue is the rights of performers and actors over their performances, the contribution they have made to a film, their writings and so on. All sorts of contributions go into making these flowers of cultural endeavour. As it was put to me this morning as I chatted to a member of Irish Equity, the DAC structure separates the performer, the artist or the creative from the benefit of his or her endeavour and creative ability. That is how he described it to me. That is exactly what the DAC structure does.
It ensures that creatives do not benefit from their input into the making of a beautiful, wonderful thing. That is a problem. I hope the Minister recognises this if it is true. As Irish Equity representatives stated at the hearings of the Committee on Budgetary Scrutiny, it is contrary to the EU directive on copyright. The directive implies that buy-out contracts should be the exception, not the rule, and that it is critical and a requirement that the creatives, performers and actors get equitable remuneration for their artistic contribution and intellectual property. They are not getting it. Under contracts in the UK, including Northern Ireland, and other jurisdictions, they do get it. That has to be addressed. Those affected say that the DAC structure facilitates what is happening. When all this is being funded with public money, the Minister should be concerned about ensuring the creatives' rights are vindicated. They are not being vindicated.
The people the Minister is talking to, the screen producers, are happy with this situation because the rights are being signed over to them. The intellectual property rights of the artists, performers and others are being signed over to the producers. Needless to say, Screen Producers Ireland is saying this is great and good for the producers. It is not surprising that Screen Ireland believes it is acceptable. That is because it is largely populated by producers. There is a revolving door involving producers in Screen Ireland who are making movies funded by that organisation under section 481. It is a relatively small group.
A writer who emailed me described what is happening in scathing terms. He stated he has ultimately come to the conclusion that the Irish film industry is effectively a scam, a branch of the public sector that has craftily positioned itself to operate completely by its own rules and without any accountability to the taxpayer. He went on to provide details. I am only getting my head around all this because it is such a complex industry, given the input of writers, actors, performers, crew and so on. The writer's remarks are pretty scathing. He explained how by comparison with other jurisdictions, writers in Ireland are paid an absolute pittance for options on scripts. The scripts are sat on by producers, who do not try to obtain finance. A writer signs over the rights to his or her script to producers who sit on it, do nothing with it and pay next to nothing.
I could elaborate on some of the issues the writer who emailed me mentioned. Some of the headlines concern duplicity, low pay, vested interests, contracts being drawn up for writers by a particular firm of solicitors that I believe has a relationship with some of the key people inside Screen Producers Ireland.
That is absolutely fine. Once I have got this amendment out of the way, I will be flying through the rest. I will probably not even speak to most of my other amendments. On this one, however, I want to get all the relevant points across.
These are serious charges. They are coming precisely from the people who are the creatives. The whole point is to support the creative industry, which, in this case, is the film industry. Writers, performers and actors are making serious charges. It is incumbent on the Minister to investigate them seriously and not just talk to the people he gives the funding to, who are obviously very happy to keep it. Of course they are. The Minister mentioned Screen Guilds of Ireland yesterday. That body is wholly funded by the State. All its funding comes from Screen Ireland. It has been suggested to me that Screen Guilds of Ireland represents the self-employed contractors who hire and fire people on film productions. That does not really tell us about the people we need to be looking after. Of course, Screen Guilds of Ireland is going to say things are okay.
In order to elaborate on the points on the DAC, intellectual property rights and what happens to the latter, let me refer again to the email I read yesterday. This relates to my metaphor of the flower, which has died but still exists. Importantly, it is when a film is put on a hard drive that it starts to generate revenue. It does not generate revenue when it is being made. It is when it is put on a hard drive, sold, distributed, downloaded and so on that the money starts to come in, but that money never shows up in the DAC. The revenues accruing from the flower, with the production now on the hard drive, do not go back to the people with the creative input or DAC. That should be of concern to the taxpayers as well as the performers because they finance it. Where is the money going? Let me explain why it should be of concern to the taxpayer. In England, where Irish performers sometimes perform and where they get the right deal, the residuals that come in over the years for downloading, distribution and performance go back to the performers, writers or others and they pay tax on it, meaning the state gets something back. In Ireland, however, that does not happen. The artists and performers never get anything back. They have to sign it away. Screen Producers Ireland says it front-loads the remuneration. In other words, it gives the creatives a payment up front, but this payment is nowhere near comparable with what would be obtained if they had access to the revenues that accrue, often for years, from the performance and downloading of the work they have contributed to. Insofar as there is a back-end deal - this is the lingo - it is linked to the profits of the producer, not the sales, distribution and revenues flowing from the intellectual property. That is a big difference. Elsewhere, the revenues from sales and distribution, or the revenues flowing from the intellectual property, are what remunerate the creatives, artists and performers. Here, the remuneration is linked to the profits, but, as I explained, it is unheard of for the producer companies we fund to make a profit.
Here, it is linked to the profits. As I explained, a profit being made by the producer companies that we fund is unheard of; it does not happen. I hope the Minister sees the difference. There is a consequence as well for the taxpayer. Anyway, I will read what he wrote:
It should be noted that when the finished film (the hard drive and the bundle of underlying copyright) is transferred/sold from the DAC to another company its price, and the terms of the assignment of the rights, will be well below the market price to ensure that the DAC accounts register a loss.
With this kind of structure the tax credit can never be reclaimed as the potential for profit has been removed. Any profit that accrues as a result of distribution and sales will be experienced by a different company. If that company is outside Ireland’s tax jurisdiction then the section 481 taxpayer investment never re-enters the Irish tax net and the investment is effectively lost. There is an additional opportunity for Production Companies within the DAC structure.
"Internal pricing" is a common practice between companies with common owners. It is possible, for example, for the Production Company to invoice the DAC for certain services. For example, the Production Company might take on certain management and financial services on behalf of the DAC and invoice the DAC for those services. At this point it is possible to inflate those costs to the benefit of the owners of the Production Company. Or in the case of animation, the Production Company can invoice the DAC for the services of its ... animators at a significantly increased rate that does not reflect the actual cost of the animators. These are common internal pricing practices. Our point is that these practices are possible within the current design of Section 481, and therefore more transparency and regulation is required.
The final point of course is that the DAC structure means that Production Companies employ only a smaller number of full time office staff on anything like a full time basis. The majority of performers and crew are contracted by the [DAC] which, by their nature, have a limited [time] span. It is difficult to take action [i.e. to the Labour Court or the WRC] against such transient entities. Section 481, as it is currently designed is open to ALL of these risks. We know from the recent cost benefit analysis that it has a net cash cost in excess of €70 million.
That is the cost-benefit analysis referred to yesterday. He continued, "It is possible that this could be reduced if not reversed, if these risks inherent in the design, were removed." All of that is quite telling. I will move on to perhaps the last point and elaborate on that in terms of the ability of workers, because that relates to the other part of my amendment.
I was asked to put this question to the Minister. Can he produce a single PAYE worker who has a contract of indefinite duration acknowledged by the production companies to which he gives money to employ people in the film industry? Can he find one? He referred to 3,000 full-time equivalent people last night. That is a new figure, by the way. It should be noted that these figures fluctuate. This is very important because this is what the relief is for – to create employment. Mr. Hickey, who was in here at the budgetary scrutiny committee the other day, claimed back in 2018 there were 17,000 full-time equivalents. When that figure was challenged and the Minister’s Department looked at it, we discovered that the correct figure was 2,000 rather than 17,000. Now we have a figure of 3,000. Those are amazing fluctuations, are they not? There is a big difference. My challenge to the Minister is not whether he can find 2,100, 17,000, or 3,000, but can he find one? Can he produce one PAYE employee on any of the film productions funded either with section 481 or, as I believe it was called, section 35 before that? If one adds up all the public money that has been invested through section 481 or its predecessor since the 1980s, it is probably in the region of €4 billion over all those years. That is going back to the 1980s. Can we find one person who actually has a job as a result of the money we have given to create jobs? My challenge to the Minister is to suggest that he cannot.
This makes a mockery of the declaration that the recipients have to sign where it says that they have to; for example, that they have to comply with the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act and, of course, the EU directives surrounding that, which require that people on fixed-term contracts do not enjoy conditions lesser than those on normal contracts of employment. That is what the directive states. It is precisely to protect people in what you call “project-to-project”. That is purpose of the fixed-term workers directive and the fixed-term workers legislation. It is to protect people who work on project-to-project employment to ensure they acquire these rights by law. If they work for the same producer, as it is in this case, or the same employer successively over a number of years, even if there are gaps or if they work for some other people in between, they acquire these rights. However, those rights are not acknowledged.
While I challenge the Minister to find one PAYE worker who has an acknowledged contract of indefinite duration, I could bring in 30 or 40 people, many living in the Minister’s constituency, who could demonstrate their record as having worked for 20, 30 or 40 years in the film industry, who should have contracts of indefinite duration but have not got them, and who have been put out of the industry because they have asked for such contracts. I refer not to people who say they represent this, that or the other, but the actual people who worked in the film industry. That is a very serious problem because it means the objective of this relief is not being met. The requirements for such state aid under EU law are not being met.
Somebody else I was talking to this morning noted the big question in this regard: who is the employer in the film industry? The Minister mentioned the Screen Producers Ireland, SPI, agreement, which has not been registered, as I understand it, with the Labour Court. Normally these agreements are registered with the Labour Court. Why has it not? I suggest it has not been registered because it cannot be - because an agreement in the Labour Court has to be between an employer and an employee. SPI is not an employer. Therefore, that agreement has not and cannot be registered. The only people SPI could register an agreement for are the people who work for SPI. However, they cannot sign an agreement for employers who do not exist. When I say they do not exist, it is not me saying it - it is the so-called employers – the producers companies - that are saying it. Is that understood? An agreement between employers and employees can only exist if there is an employer. The people the Government gives the money to explicitly said in this committee room that they are not and cannot be the employer. Therefore, how can it make an agreement with employees? Now we have a big problem. There is no employer or employee. That is a big problem when the Government is spending €100 million a year to create quality employment and training.
Finally, I had another phone call this morning with another person who has been working.
This person is not blacklisted, unlike some of those who came in here in 2018 who have not worked since. He has been working and he is saying this stuff is still rampant in film productions.
By the way some people in section 481 work are not even doing the trainee stuff or pretending to do it. There is willy-nilly firing of anybody who says, for example, that the scaffolding is a bit unsafe and something needs to be done about it. In that scenario the person who mentions that is fired. If someone argues with the producer or says people are working unsafe or too long hours they are fired and they will not be employed again. There is nothing to protect people against this stuff. Whether the Minister accepts that those allegations are true or not, I am asking him to do this because I put it to him - and I ask the Minister to respond to these things - that there is no protection against that stuff. It does not exist and it cannot exist because of the DAC structure. I will leave it at that.
This is a reply to the Minister and he is correct on some level in the sense that I did not speak about the huge successes there have been in the Irish film industry. Maybe I should have said that at the outset but the fact is that we want that to continue. We want to ensure that we have what I spoke about earlier, namely, a sustainable industry that provides a good level of employment and training and then ensures enough throughput to maintain it throughout. The Minister accepted that the issues we brought up are ones that have been brought to us by those who work in the industry.
I will go through this quickly. The producer applies for the grant money but the grant money is given to the DAC. Deputy Boyd Barrett dealt with the ins and outs of who is an employer and who is not and the difficulties that are caused by that. There is the particular issue with the intellectual property, IP, and the artist. In years gone by they were able to get better contracts with residuals and the sign-off but that is not the case at this point in time. When we had the producers and Screen Guilds of Ireland, SGI, in the committee for an interaction there was an acceptance on some level - as much as they did not accept everything that we put in front of them - that there was an insufficient amount of collective agreements to deal with the IP and workers' rights issues. The issue is what the number is and what it looks like. People who are working as crew in the film industry are saying that the ratios are not what they were previously and that there was a greater number of experienced staff. They claim - and I know this is refuted on some level - that there is a shortage of experienced staff and that there is a huge number of trainees. This is not from the point of view of training but to a degree, it is a race to the bottom. I have had the same reports that Deputy Boyd Barrett has had on the fact that anybody who complains about anything is shown where the road is.
The big thing is that we are dealing with a huge power differential. We can talk about Screen Producers Ireland, SPI, SGI and Screen Ireland and all the rest of it but crew and others will say that they are not represented on any of these bodies. I accept what the Minister says when he says that the tax code is not the means by which you deal with this but we need a proper review or investigation from the point of view of putting the correct framework in place. That is the thing that is missing. I ask that we get into the ins and outs of what those figures are because it is a question of the ratios of people working on film sets and all the rest of it. My fear is that as much as people are saying they are not necessarily great working conditions, beyond that the whole film industry is at risk if we do not get a handle on it. This might be beyond the remit of what we are dealing with but we have to address this issue by any means possible. Representation of crew and artists is something that is missing from the entire model.
I thank the Deputies for their contributions. The point I was attempting to make yesterday was that I felt there was a lack of balance from the Deputies in the contributions they made in not giving some recognition to the positive role that section 481 has played in the growth of the film and audiovisual sector in Ireland and to a lot of the recent developments that have taken place. I appreciate that the matters both Deputies are raising are important and serious and that they merit discussion in the context of the Finance Bill and further work from the Department of Finance. I would say to them that there are other developments that are under way that are positive and making a difference. However, more work needs to be done.
I acknowledge the positive and important developments that have taken place. I am sure the Deputies are aware of the new construction crew agreement that was reached in July of this year. I understand that this encompasses up to 300 workers in the independent film and television construction sector and includes some of the workers who both Deputies have referenced, including: carpenters; plasterers; painters; riggers; and stage-hands. This is an agreement that provides for: increased hourly pay rates; overtime rates; a guaranteed working week; dispute procedures; and various other industrial relations and employment provisions. Other measures that are included in this are the extension of coverage for pensions, sick leave and other benefits to industry construction workers under the construction workers' pension scheme. This is an agreement that has also led to a new joint monitoring structure to help ensure the agreement is appropriately implemented. This is the second agreement of its kind that has been brokered within the sector we are discussing and follows on from the crew agreement that was introduced in January 2021. That agreement modernised the practices that went before. It also has a monitoring structure to oversee it and within the agreement there is a commitment to develop a work-life balance policy for the film and television industry.
I fully accept that the issues that are being raised with the Deputies by individual members of the sector are being raised by a number of people. We are following the hearings that are happening here and have followed the long-standing interest of both Deputies, particularly Deputy Boyd Barrett, in this matter, over many years. These developments are trying to respond to the issues that are being raised on working standards in the sector and the need for progress to be made on important matters of pay, overtime rates and the kind of issues that really matter. I differ from the analysis that has been offered by the Deputies in the following ways. In particular when I hear Deputy Boyd Barrett talk about the need for contracts of indefinite duration, it is difficult to see how such contracts are consistent with a sector that is fundamentally a project-by-project one and one in which your employer changes from film to film and from cartoon to cartoon. That is a key issue.
We have a sector where, as I understand it, your employer and the project you are on vary a lot. The DAC structure is a reflection of the fact that employment tends to be provided on a project-by-project basis.
It is not clear to me how some of the expectations Deputy Boyd Barrett has can be delivered in the context of a sector in which a person's employer varies a lot because the production varies and changes a lot as well. In any event, it seems that the only way in which we can make progress on issues like this is through making sure the kinds of collective agreements that have already been reached within the sector work, and then broaden them out for more workers within the sector to be able to participate.
I am in possession of a letter that was sent to the Chairperson of the Committee on Budgetary Oversight, Deputy Hourigan, from Screen Producers Ireland, which states:
Irish actors' Equity unilaterally exited from a 2021 agreement in April of 2021. Screen Producers Ireland have endeavoured to engage with Irish actors' Equity with a view to entering into negotiations so that issues which have arisen can be resolved. We have been in contact with the WRC, which has invited Irish Equity to the table but so far, they have declined to engage. Screen Producers Ireland is fully committed to compliance with the EU copyright directive and the Irish regulators implementing them but can only do so through negotiated collective bargaining agreements.
I have no doubt at all that there is another side to the story, which I am sure the Deputy will give to me in a moment. The point I will still stand over, however, is that the issues and matters of the workers raised by the Deputy need to be addressed. The way in which progress can be made on them is through implementing the collective agreements that have been negotiated, broadening them out and putting more in place. These are industrial relations issues that need to be dealt with through industrial relations fora.
I appreciate the point Deputy Ó Murchú made when he recognised the limitations in tax policy in dealing with these issues. I still accept that when we are having a discussion about a tax relief, however, it is entirely legitimate that the kinds of issues raised by both Deputies should be aired here.
Deputy Ó Murchú also made that point that there needs to be an audit and investigation into these matters. My understanding is that the Workplace Relations Commission did an audit of the sector in 2020 and as I mentioned last night, did not recommend a change in the designated activity company, DAC, structure or the section 481 relief that is in place. It recommended the kind of approach to which I am referring here, however, which is the implementation of collective agreements, where they are in place, or the introduction of new collective agreements where they are not in place. I support those recommendations. I hope the recent progress that has been made across 2021 and 2022 can be built upon.
In terms of the further engagement that will happen, my Department recently met with representatives from Screen Guilds of Ireland and SIPTU. We would like to meet Equity and the Irish Film Workers Association, IFWA, again, and we will do so, to continue our engagement on these issues.
Even though we just published a pretty lengthy and thorough evaluation of section 481, I really care about what happens within this sector. The three of us are united in our agreement that what that sector produces is often wonderful. We should all be proud of the people who work in the sector whether they are producers, stagehands or actors. We should want to see everybody involved in the sector have the opportunity to earn a decent living. As I said, however, this sector appears to me to be more project-based and because it is film-based or television series-based, it means that employment within the sector reflects the fact that it is project by project and film by film. The way in which the kinds of issues that flow from that kind of employment can be dealt with is through industrial relations and procedures rather than through the tax code. The tax code is only one part of section 481 from which we have published a survey.
I will conclude with two really specific matters that were raised, the first of which were the allegations to which Deputy Boyd Barrett referred. Let me say to the committee that if the Deputy is raising these allegations, I am confident that he has evidence that he believes merits the claims he is making. Deputy Boyd Barrett shared views regarding people being sacked because they raised concerns about the safety of the work environment. I am sure there are State bodies that should be investigating and getting to the bottom of the claims to which the Deputy referred. I hope the issues to which he referred have been shared with them. Safety in the workplace should be a fundamental duty for those who are involved in the production of these films. I am sure it is and I hope it is. However, the Deputy raised a very serious allegation I have not heard before. I accept his right to raise it. I am sure he raised it based on evidence he accepts. That is a matter that clearly merits investigation by the State bodies that are involved in work safety, however. I hope the issues he raised have been shared with them.
Deputy Ó Murchú made a point about the shortage of experienced staff. It shows the importance of the work I tried to reference last night about training days and what needs to happen to build up the skills and qualifications of those who are involved in the sector. It emphasises to me that this is work that needs to continue in order that we have more and more experienced people involved in delivering work we all agree is of great value to our society and economy.
I genuinely welcome the Minister's response, particularly his commitment to meet all the people to whom he referred. It is critically important that he meets not only the people who think everything is okay but also those who are raising very serious concerns and questions in order that we get a balance.
Indeed, there are other people. We obviously mentioned the Irish Film Workers Association and Equity as groups that had the confidence to come in, if you like. One of those groups would say its members have suffered very dire consequences. That needs to be looked at. The other group represents without question the actors and performers who maybe have the confidence to come in and raise questions. If the Minister is open to it, however, there are other individuals working in the industry who do not have the confidence to go public but would probably welcome private engagements with the Department to be able to give evidence of what they know and see in the industry. I ask that of the Minister. These are people who would have absolutely clear credentials, if you like, as players in the film industry. We need to hear from everybody.
As part of that, I hope this might conclude with the once promised but subsequently abandoned film industry stakeholders forum, which the Government wanted to happen and that was recommended by the then Joint Committee on Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in 2018. Certain elements within the film industry simply vetoed it, however. They said they were not involving themselves and the thing fell apart.
It never happened. No group should have the right to veto a stakeholder forum in an industry that would not exist without public money. It is important that we keep reminding ourselves that it would not exist without public money. That is different from the non-funded arts sector. That is a distinction I only fully got into my head during Covid-19. We discovered there are a great many people in entertainment, music and so forth who are not funded. There should be good employer-employee relations in that situation but there is something different between a sector that is not publicly funded and how it would deal with employee-employer relations and something that is publicly funded, depends on public funding and would not exist without it. I ask members to think about that difference in how we approach this. I believe that makes the sector different. It is also different precisely because the film relief is about quality employment and training and because of the EU directive. That slightly changes the pitch. That is my point. If it was not funded, we might well say to someone who experiences a problem that they can go to the WRC or the Health and Safety Authority because that is what those bodies are for. However, this is slightly different because the funding is all public money, from section 481, Screen Ireland, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, RTÉ and so on. Those are other revenue streams that are not even counted in some of the figures I have referred to. There is all this public money going into the sector and even the producers acknowledge that without this money, there would be no industry. It is entirely dependent on public money. Therefore, the Minister, whose response and engagement I genuinely welcome, and the Government need to think about the fact that this is the public's money.
I hope the Minister will discuss this issue with those who are expressing concern, the contrarians. As the Nyberg report produced after the economic crash stated, we need to listen to the contrarians. One of the lessons of the crash in 2008 was that we did not listen enough to the contrarians. It is important that we listen to them so that we have a balanced view. I ask the Minister to note that this project-to-project system does not exist in the animation industry, which is also funded by section 481. It does not exist. There are different animated films that are done project to project, but they are standing companies with employees and a production line. I have no doubt the producers will come in here and say that is different but it is not necessarily different and it was not always different. Once upon a time in the film industry, people were employed by studios. People will say that was the "olden days" and it is different now but they will not say why it is different or better. The people who say it is different now and we cannot go back to the way it was say that because they are doing quite well. I fully understand they would want to say that.
An issue raised with me, which I ask the Minister to look into, is producer fees and how big they are. I have heard of shocking figures of €250,000 each for producers on films that have a total budget of about €8 million. The same productions then skimp on overtime payments and allowances, whereas the producers are getting €250,000 each. These issues need to be looked at because this is public money. It is obvious that those people have little interest in questioning the current model. That is self-evident but it does not mean they are right.
As one person put it to me, a live action film is a production line. It is different in the sense that there is a creative aspect, if we can put it in those terms. That is important. On another level, a film is a production line with trades, builders, transport workers and so on. There is no need for those people to exist in complete precarity and insecurity. One might well argue that on creative grounds the same writer cannot write every time for the producer company, which, by the way, does exist all the time. That is the one area that is not project-to-project. A producer company to which public money is given does not have an episodic existence. It exists all along the line. We can name the companies.
I again welcome what the Minister said. It was suggested to me that one thing we could do is to phone up the ten or 15 major recipients. That number could be narrowed down to six or seven. We should phone them up and ask how many employees they have. Those companies have existed for ten or 15 years so they are not episodic. They also decide the disposal of the intellectual property rights of the performers and so on. That is who they are transferred to and they are then transferred on elsewhere - we do not quite know to whom. Are they transferred on to the big American companies? Are they put into another DAC? I believe that was alleged in a German case where the revenues accruing to a particular film, a co-production with a German company, had been put somewhere else and there was a legal case around it. Where do they go? Who gets those revenues? It is not the State or the artists. I ask the Minister to seriously examine that and question this mantra that because a film is made on a project-to-project basis, nobody can have any security or recognition. It is slightly different, but all industries are slightly different. Does that mean all rights go out the window? Does it mean someone who has been in the industry for ten, 20 or 30 years has no right to have some expectation to be employed on the next film made by the same producer company that made the last film he or she worked on? Can those who made the sets, did the transport work or worked as the stage hand have no legitimate expectation to be on the next production when it is the same producer? The Minister should ask himself those questions because as soon as we ask them, we realise there is a problem there.
In regard to the agreements, again I ask the Minister to look into this and possibly get legal advice from the Attorney General on these agreements. My understanding is that there cannot be an agreement covering an industry if there is not an employer and an employee. That cannot happen and is not legal. That needs to be looked into because it is meaningless. When I say there is no employer it is not a case of me just alleging that. The Minister should listen to what SPI says when it goes in front of the Labour Court or the WRC. The previous CEO of SPI said she would give further evidence before the court that there was no possible basis, having due regard to the realities of the sector, on which a relationship of employment could be said to have existed between the parties. The parties were the film company and the people who worked on a publicly-funded film production. That is who she was referring to. Whatever the specifics of that case, we should listen to what she is saying. That was on the basis of clearly established industry norms and practices governing working arrangements in the sector, including the operation of section 481. There is no possible basis for a relationship of employment because there is no employer and no employee.
There cannot be an agreement with anybody else other than an employer and employee. I am genuinely asking the Minister to get legal advice on this issue because those agreements mean nothing if we do not have the basics of an employer and an employee.
To reiterate what the Minister said, under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, there is an obligation on all employers to provide a safe system of work and a safe place of work and methods of reporting concerns that would arise in the workplace. That option is open to anybody, even a member of the public, to report. It can be reported online and while people must provide their details, those details remains confidential. If there is anyone listening who is concerned about a workplace situation, there are options available. There is very strong legislation in place to protect workers in the workplace and it is improving all the time.
This will be my last word on this, honestly. One of the people I was talking to this morning told me that the UK had just introduced a measure where there will be someone on film sets to address the problem of people being afraid to go to their line producer because of a fear of repercussions or going to the producers. That fear exists over there as well. In the UK, a special independent person is now on each film set to whom crew, performers and workers can go if they have concerns. That is completely independent of any of the operators, stakeholders or anybody else in the film industry. It is a good idea to have somebody that people can go to based on the fear of reprisal. I welcome what Deputy Matthews said but that fear is very serious. We have heard it from multiple people giving evidence. A good, simple way by which we can begin to address that issue is to have someone whom people can go to and say that maybe they are being bullied or told to do things they feel they should not have to do. That person would be completely independent of producers, management and the people who hire and fire.
To be completely precise about the expectation I have created, my Department, as opposed to me, will meet other bodies. If I started meeting representative bodies in other sectors for which I do not have direct responsibility, I would never get any work done. I have to allow Departments, such as the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, to take the lead in policy areas. However, my officials will meet the different bodies to which we just referred. We will meet Equity and the IFWA to follow up on these matters and hear their views, just as we have met Screen Guilds of Ireland and SIPTU. I assure the Deputy that will happen. I am less confident that I can give a commitment regarding meeting individuals.
Yes, but I think the Deputy will understand that we have to confine our engagement to representative bodies in sectors. It is unusual enough for the Department to meet representative bodies in a sector for which it does not have direct policy responsibility. We are responsible for section 481 and the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media is responsible for many of the other policy issues with regard to the sector. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is responsible for many of the industrial relations issues the Deputy raised. However, because of the Department's interest in the film sector and in the different issues the Deputy raised, we will meet the representative bodies but we will confine our engagement to those bodies because that is the appropriate thing to do.
I am not dismissing the issues the Deputy has raised, and I never have dismissed them. As I said in my earlier response, if the Deputy raises an issue with me in the way he has, I accept he has enough evidence that he believes the issue is legitimate. I accept that. Equally, I am aware of the need to listen to those who have different views. That is a partial motivation for my interest in the different issues the Deputy has raised. At the same time, I do not believe that my view of a sector or an overall issue can be exclusively or largely determined by those who have the kind of negative and worrying views to which the Deputy refers. I hear views from other organisations within the sector that are not consistent with what the Deputy said. I hear the views of others who talk about progress being made and do not raise issues of the severity the Deputy does. I have to acknowledge that this morning. That said, it will not stop my Department meeting the organisations that differ from our assessment of how things stand because it is right and proper that should happen.
Returning to the workplace safety issues, Deputies have reminded me that it is the Health and Safety Authority that has responsibility for workplace safety. I referred to State bodies and the Deputies made clear which of them it is. The HSA is independent and I know it carries out and discharge its duties in an impartial manner and independent of the views of employers. It also has to assess whether the issues being raised with it justify further action or a response from the State.
I reiterate the point made by Deputy Matthews that anyone looking in on this meeting and those who are concerned about their safety need to be aware of the work the HSA can do and be confident that they can report issues to the HSA and they will be investigated in an impartial and thorough way. I do not want people working in any workplace funded under section 481 or any other public money to feel their workplace is unsafe. The Deputy is raising a very serious matter. I reiterate the competence and role of the HSA in it.
While we have spent some time on this section, it was appropriate that we did so. It is a significant use of taxpayers' money. We are talking about issues that are important in the sector. I believe progress has been made and that the overall balance in the sector is different from than described by the two Deputies. Equally, however, I accept that the issues they are raising are important and merit further work. That is why my Department will meet the other bodies and organisations that have been raising these issues in recent years and will continue to engage with them. We will monitor the hearings that are under way in the Committee on Budgetary Oversight to see if there are any new matters or further issues being raised that are relevant to the operation of section 481.
I said I would take 30 seconds and I hope I will not make a liar of myself. I welcome the Minister's interaction. There is an acceptance of the need for a greater level of collective agreements across the board. However, the power differential needs to be taken into account. That is the reason some individuals are keeping their heads down. We need to find some means whereby they can make submissions or whatever. This is not us saying this is terrible but we have been shown a number of bad practices that endanger the industry and place people in circumstances that are not good. That needs to be done. I think the Minister agreed with me, based on a nod he gave at the time, that we need a better model or framework in which there is greater representation for crew. I do not know exactly how that should happen but the Government is probably better placed to make that happen than either I am or others are.
Lastly, I accept the answer given to the question on ratios. It was presented to me that a choice was made by certain producers to have less experienced of staff in order to pay them less and thus people were in a more precarious situation. That claim has been denied but many Deputies have heard it from many sources. The issue must form part of the discussion the Government has with some of these stakeholders.
On the situation Deputy Ó Murchú mentioned where one has individuals who are afraid to, as he said, put their heads above the parapet, surely that is where organisations like SIPTU come in and surely this is the very valuable role trade unions play. Where workers are very concerned about their future, or are concerned that they are not being treated fairly, they have recourse to a union. We have met SIPTU and listened to what its representatives had to say. Of course, SIPTU has raised issues with us. I am not going to speak for SIPTU at this committee meeting, and I would not dream of doing so, but I will make the following general points. First, the sense that we got from the industry differs from how the Deputies have portrayed it today. Second, the issues the Deputies have raised are still important and we will meet groups that have raised these matters with them. The Department of Finance will do that, and shortly after the Finance Bill has been completed.
I move amendment No. 54:
In page 85, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following: “Report on relief for investment in films in the context of employee pay and conditions within the sector
35. The Minister shall, within six months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before Dáil Éireann a report on section 481 film relief, in the context of the pay, conditions and training of employees within the sector, and options to enhance the scheme with respect to employee pay, conditions and training.”.
On the basis of the earlier conversation I withdraw the amendment and reserve the right to resubmit it on Report Stage.
Amendments Nos. 55 to 58, inclusive, and No. 60 are related. Amendments No. 55 and 56 are physical alternatives. Amendments Nos. 55 to 58, inclusive, and No. 60 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
“ “SCHEDULE 2
RATES OF MINERAL OIL TAX
With effect as on and from:
Rates per 1,000 litres Heavy Oil:
Rates per 1,000 litres Liquefied Petroleum Gas:
Rates per 1,000 litres Vehicle gas:
Rate per megawatt hour at gross calorific value Petrol Aviation gasoline Used as a propellant Used for air navigation Used for private pleasure navigation Kerosene used other than as a propellant Fuel oil Other heavy oil Used as a propellant
Other liquefied petroleum gas 10 March 2022 €474.11
€474.11 €413.51 €413.51 €413.51 €84.84 €118.01 €120.55 €118.27 €54.68 €9.36 1 April 2022 €465.98 €465.98 €405.38 €405.38 €405.38 €84.84 €118.01 €120.55 €118.27 €54.68 €9.36 1 May 2022 €465.98 €465.98 €405.38 €405.38 €405.38 €103.83 €141.12 €111.14 €130.52 €66.93 €9.36 12 October 2022 €359.00 €483.34 €330.00 €425.45 €425.45 €0.00 €141.12 €111.14 €130.52 €66.93 €9.36 1 March 2023 €654.07 €654.07 €555.53 €555.53 €555.53 €84.84 €141.12 €158.50 €130.52 €66.93 €9.36 1 May 2023 €654.07 €654.07 €555.53 €555.53 €555.53 €84.84 €164.23 €178.83 €142.76 €79.17 €9.36 11 October 2023 €671.43 €671.43 €575.61 €575.61 €575.61 €84.84 €164.23 €178.83 €142.76 €79.17 €9.36 1 May 2024 €671.43 €671.43 €575.61 €575.61 €575.61 €141.82 €187.34 €199.17 €155.01 €91.42 €10.13 9 October 2024 €688.78 €688.78 €595.68 €595.68 €595.68 €141.82 €187.34 €199.17 €155.01 €91.42 €10.13 1 May 2025 €688.78 €688.78 €595.68 €595.68 €595.68 €160.81 €210.45 €219.50 €167.25 €103.66 €11.48 8 October 2025 €706.14 €706.14
€615.76 €615.76 €615.76 €160.81 €210.45 €219.50 €167.25 €103.66 €11.48 1 May 2026 €706.14 €706.14 €615.76 €615.76 €615.76 €179.81 €233.57 €239.83 €179.49 €115.90 €12.84 14 October 2026 €723.49 €723.49 €635.83
€635.83 €635.83 €179.81 €233.57 €239.83 €179.49 €115.90 €12.84 1 May 2027 €723.49 €723.49 €635.83 €635.83 €635.83 €198.80 €256.68 €260.16 €191.74 €128.15 €14.20 13 October 2027 €740.85 €740.85 €655.90 €655.90
€655.90 €198.80 €256.68 €260.16 €191.74 €128.15 €14.20 1 May 2028 €740.85 €740.85 €655.90 €655.90 €655.90 €217.80 €279.79 €280.49 €203.98 €140.39 €15.56 11 October 2028 €758.21 €758.21 €675.98 €675.98 €675.98
€217.80 €279.79 €280.49 €203.98 €140.39 €15.56 1 May 2029 €758.21 €758.21 €675.98 €675.98 €675.98 €236.79 €302.90 €300.83 €216.23 €152.64 €16.91 10 October 2029 €773.25
€773.25 €693.38 €693.38 €693.38 €236.79 €302.90 €300.83 €216.23 €152.64 €16.91 1 May 2030 €773.25 €773.25 €693.38 €693.38 €693.38 €253.25 €322.93 €318.45 €226.84 €163.25 €18.09
We are all aware of the cost-of-living crisis that people face. We are conscious that there has been a reduction in the level of excise for petrol and diesel, which is being extended now by the Finance Bill. We are also conscious that there is an EU energy tax directive that places limitations on what the State can do in terms of reducing excise duties. That being said, there is still further scope to reduce the level of excise and, therefore, reduce the cost of petrol by 15 cent and reduce the cost of diesel by another 12 cent. This would entail the suspension of the diesel rebate scheme but that would not be at a cost to hauliers because they would get the reduction directly at the fuel pumps, which is slightly greater than what they get under the rebate scheme. There has been no reduction whatsoever in terms of excise on home heating oil. As there is no limitation on home heating oil in the energy tax directive, we could remove excise from home heating oil by reducing it by €117 per 1,000 l fill.
The Minister will be very conscious that despite reducing excise on petrol and diesel, the price of both is still at a very high level. Many fuel pumps across the State have priced diesel at €2 or more per litre although over the last day the price may have dropped slightly. However, the price of diesel has increased by nearly 70% since January of last year and for the same period the price of petrol has increased by more than 40% even if one factors in reductions.
It is crazy what has happened to the price of home heating oil because it has increased by 145% since January of 2021. In my view the increase is a slight against rural communities in the main because the Government has continually increased the price of home heating oil. The Government recognised that measures had to be taken to combat gas prices and reduced the rate of VAT. Home heating oil is how two thirds of people in the west and north west heat their homes. People in my home county of Donegal predominantly use home heating oil to heat their homes. There is no gas, no gas pipelines and no gas infrastructure in County Donegal. Across the west, as much as 58% of people use home heating oil to heat their homes. Across the State the percentage of users is 37% but that percentage is skewed by Dublin because a smaller proportion of people use home heating oil in Dublin. Along the Border region, in the north west, 66% of homes use home heating oil. Even though a high percentage of people use home heating oil, there have been numerous increases in its price. Sinn Féin has debated this issue. We will continue to debate the situation and push the Government on the matter. As I said, the energy tax directive has no limitations to prevent us from going further so we can reduce the price of petrol by 15 cent. As there are no limitations we can reduce the price of home heating oil by another by €117 per 1,000 l fill. There are limitations on diesel and, therefore, the Government needs to suspend the diesel rebate scheme but that does not come at the cost as hauliers would benefit from a 12 cent reduction in price at the fuel pumps, which would allow us to reduce the price to the minimum rate allowable by the energy tax directive. I strongly argue that these rates apply until the end of February 2023 and that the matter is assessed at that point.
I thank the Deputy for tabling his amendment. I am very much aware of the impact the rising cost of petrol, diesel and home heating oil is having on living standards within our country. I am aware of the great concern that many face this winter which has darker nights regarding how they can keep themselves warm and I am aware of the costs of using a car, commuting and going to school, etc. I understand that people have to go about their daily lives in which the use of a car is so fundamental. I also accept and appreciate that for those who live outside of the larger cities and towns that a car is really important, and that the rise in cost of fuel has a further impact upon them.
Deputy Doherty is correct in describing the further flexibility that is available to the Government, if we chose, to further reduce taxes in these areas. Even though that flexibility is there, we still have a need to be able to ensure that we can afford what we are doing and that the measures overall are ones, if we need to renew or continue them, that we are able to do and that we have the ability within our national finances to be able to afford the measures that are in place. Overall, we have brought forward a budget of €11 billion, of which €4 billion is cost-of-living measures that are one-off. Some are targeted, yet aim to make a real difference to the very constituents to which Deputy Doherty referred. We have measures in place yet Deputy Doherty argues that they are insufficient.
The cost of that alone, to the end of next February, is €281 million. It is a huge amount of taxpayers' money being used to reduce the cost of fuel for many who are struggling with that at the moment. While there were some positive trends for a while, in particular with the price of petrol at the pump beginning to come down, that is not carrying through into other fuels at the moment. I know it is happening with diesel and with home heating oil. I make the case to the Deputy and to those who are watching this debate that €280 million of their money is being used to put in place measures that we are going to fund up to the end of next February. That is a huge amount of the country's money being used to respond to issues that really matter and that are affecting the cost of living. The Deputy will say I should always spend more and do more but that cannot be the answer to every issue we face. Looking at the €11 billion of the country's money we are using, and particularly the €4 billion that is being used to deal with the cost of living, which the committee and I are so concerned about, I would make the case that that €4 billion overall, including the €281 million that is being used to bring down the cost of fuel, is an honest and credible attempt from the Government to help with the cost of living in a way that we believe we can afford and that will not create further risks for country down the road.
As I said, we have debated this quite a bit. I just want to pick up on one aspect of the proposal. We are into the third day of this debate. The Minister has argued, and he will have his reasons and rationale for doing so, about how we could raise further taxes. For example, last night we spent quite a bit of time debating why we should not ask institutional investors to pay tax on the large rents they gather. There are ways. There is a reason the Minister does not want to do that and there is a reason I would do that. There is also a reason I would cut the cost of home heating oil. The cost of reducing the cost of a home heating oil fill by €117 to the end of February would be in the region of €40 million, according to the Minister's officials. I do not take away from the size of the budget. I also do not take away from the size of the crisis in individual people's lives.
We all know there are many homes that are very poorly insulated. We had a discussion about housing and the role the Minister and the Government have played in creating and sustaining a housing crisis. As regards where people are at with their homes, insulation and retrofitting over the last decade, what has happened is shocking. The focus has been on the wrong areas. Schemes that are in place now have, on average, a 27-month waiting list. People have to wait 27 months for the better energy warmer homes scheme. The target for this year is 4,800 retrofits and the waiting list is over double that. The number on the waiting list is growing all the time, while the wait time is 27 months. For other schemes, it is well documented that people need a large amount of disposable cash or be able to get a loan in order to benefit from some of those. Those on lower incomes would be looking at the better energy warmer homes scheme. It is not 2023 they could be looking at. It is not even 2024. If they are lucky, they might be able to avail of it in 2025 if they apply for the scheme in the morning. For many people who are in poorly insulated homes, their only way of heating their homes is home heating oil. The Government has done something on home heating oil; it has continued to raise the price. That is what it has done. There has been a reduction of VAT on gas. Some 80% of homes in Dublin are heated by gas but in the west and north west, in the Border counties and right down in the south east, home heating oil is the predominant method of heating homes. That is a serious issue. There is something the Government could do by recognising that there is an issue here. There are hundreds of thousands of people out there who have no other option but to heat their homes through home heating oil. The price of oil has increased by 145% since January 2021. Part of that, albeit a small part in comparison to the overall increase, is the Government's actions in pushing up the price, which it plans to do again. There is a serious issue here that has to be dealt with.
I mentioned the track record of this Government or governments that Fine Gael has been involved in. The number of shallow retrofits has dropped by 85% since Fine Gael took office. From 2011 to 2019, the number of shallow retrofits dropped by 85%. Homes that are not insulated properly lose, on average, 20% to 30% of heat through their roofs and external walls. There has been a reduction of 85% in shallow retrofits. In 2011, 51,000 roofs were insulated. In 2019, only 7,500 were done. When Fine Gael went into government, 51,000 roof insulations were carried out and in the last year we have figures for, which is 2019, that had dropped to 7,500. That is a failure. It is a failure to plan and to deal with the issue. We cannot turn that around overnight. We know that. There is a huge crisis here in terms of skills, delays and in the processing of applications by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI. There are huge bottlenecks that will take time to resolve. I would argue that this should not have happened. It should not have built up in this way. Fine Gael has been in government for the guts of 12 years but we have to deal with the here and now.
Temperatures have dropped this week. A lot of people are worried about Christmas. We should also not forget about the serious flooding in parts of the country over recent times. Temperatures have remained high until now. People tell me the grass had been growing. Temperatures have been quite high but they have dropped now. People are really worried about heating their homes, about the amount of home heating oil they have to purchase and the cost of that coming into the winter. This is a measure that I am putting forward around home heating oil that would reduce the price. As the Minister said, there is nothing to stop us doing this at a European level. We can reduce the price of a fill by €117 up until the end of February to get people through the winter. I strongly believe it is something that should be done.
Have the Minister or the Department undertaken any analysis or provided revised estimates of the price trajectory of carbon-based fuels since 2020? Given the anticipation that the trajectory will now be higher over the medium term as a result of higher demand, the green transition and geopolitical factors that have materialised, there is a very strong view that fossil fuels will remain at a high level as we move towards an energy transition and that the price of fossil fuels will continue to rise. Has any analysis been done since 2020 on this matter?
I would agree with Deputy Doherty on the benefits and advantages of deep retrofitting much of our housing stock across the country. He is right. Not enough has been done in the past. However, the energy retrofit scheme that was recently introduced has been cited at European level as one of the better and best designed energy retrofit schemes out there. These things take time. It takes time to build up the skill base. It takes time to advertise and it takes time to encourage people to take up the significant grants that are out there.
There are 100% grants under that scheme. At the moment, 400 homes per month are being retrofitted under that scheme. This is paid for in part by the carbon taxes that are raised, which Sinn Féin continually opposes yet includes in its budgets to spend. We have the 80% series range of benefits and retrofitting options for homes, with a grant of up to 80% for wall cavity insulation for thermostatic valves and other insulation measures in homes. There is also the grant of up to 50% for the full retrofit. It is a very comprehensive package and it is funded. It has signalled to the industry that there is a Government commitment to this industry and that we see the sense in retrofitting homes. Retrofitting homes benefits us in many ways, not just in the cost efficiency that accrues to the owner of that home, but also with a reduction of emissions, with health benefits, and with an increase in the value of the property. There are a number of reasons a retrofit makes a lot of sense. Ultimately, we should be moving to expand renewable energy so we can help people get off very expensive, polluting, and climate impacting fossil fuels such as gas, oil and home heating oil.
The Government has set out the policy that significantly increased our targets for renewable energy. Deputy Doherty should reflect on the Sinn Féin Private Members' Bill introduced last year that effectively would have eliminated onshore wind energy. Sinn Féin withdrew the Bill at the last minute, sensibly, which was the right thing to do. The Deputy should have a look at the facts around how much electricity is generated in Ireland, at the success we have had in renewable energy, at the Government's targets for future renewable energy, both onshore and offshore, and at the significant improvements we have made in grants for solar energy at domestic and utilities scale. That is the direction we should be going.
I will deal with the retrofitting critique that Deputy Doherty has just laid out. Last night in the debate on the introduction of an accelerated capital allowance for retrofitting in the rental sector, the Deputy made the point that in his view there are not enough people available to do the work for retrofitting.
If Deputy Doherty did not acknowledge the lack of skilled people available to do the work, then of course I apologise to the Deputy. I thought he did. If he did not, then I take that point back. The Deputy is aware, however, of the huge challenge we have in getting people to do the work and all of the training efforts that are under way, which I referred to last night, to build up the sector so we can do more retrofitting activity quickly. The money we are using to fund the retrofitting programme is from the carbon taxes Sinn Féin is against. The carbon taxing proposed by Sinn Féin, such as eliminating the carbon tax on home heating oil, is the very tax we are using to co-fund the expansion of the retrofitting programme and to put in place more funding for the retrofitting we know is needed to change homes and to give a better quality of life and better health to the people living in them. On the one hand, Sinn Féin wants the Government to fund more retrofitting, but on the other hand, Sinn Féin is opposed to the tax that pays for it. I put it to Deputy Doherty that these two views are completely inconsistent and contradictory. As I understand it, Sinn Féin has a proposed amendment here today to eliminate the carbon tax on home heating oil. Sinn Féin has been against all of the carbon tax changes that I brought forward in recent years, and yet Sinn Féin wants more of the activity that is co-funded by the carbon tax. I know that the Deputy will propose, as the Deputy said a moment ago, more taxes on REITs such as IRES, and that Sinn Féin would bring forward tax proposals to pay for more spending. The amount of additional spending the Sinn Féin Party commits to, day after day and which the Deputy also does, will not be funded by the level of taxes the party would bring forward without doing more damage to our economy. Specifically, Sinn Féin wants more retrofitting. Carbon taxes are helping to pay for the expansion of our retrofitting programme, but Sinn Féin is against carbon tax. If Sinn Féin wants to see more and more investment in a lower carbon future for our economy, where will Sinn Féin get the money to do that, given it is against the role of carbon taxing?
In answer to the Deputy's question about fossil fuels and the impact that higher pricing could have on the carbon tax trajectory, the last time we analysed this was in 2021. I am sure when we get to do the tax strategy group papers for next year, we will no doubt consider what impact higher pricing will have on the carbon pricing plans we do have. I know that the rising cost of fuel is having a very damaging and tough effect on many households throughout the country. Carbon taxing has played a role in the increase in the price of fuel in recent years but it is contributing a small share of the total price increases that are happening. These price increases are happening due to forces beyond the control of this Government, but the carbon taxes are playing a role in creating the investment to create a better economy and a better society for our country in the years ahead.
The amendment we have here deals primarily with the changes in relation to a mineral oil tax. I go back to what I said in my original response to Deputy Doherty, that there is €280 million between now and the end of February, which will be €4 billion across all once-off measures. I know this is not enough for many but it is a very large amount of money we are using on behalf of the country to make a difference to the cost-of-living pressures we know many are now experiencing.
The Minister knows very well, because we do it every year, but he will try to scaremonger anyway, that there are other ways to raise taxes, routes the Minister will decide not to go down for his own reason. We want to see more retrofits. We do not believe in the Green Party's solution where a person on a middle income must have 50% of the funding to have a deep retrofit in their house. It is unaffordable for people. It is great when Deputy Matthews talks about 100% grants, but a person would have to wait 27 months to get it. That is the problem. I understand the Green Party has only been in Government for the guts of three years, but if a person applies for that grant today it will be 2025 and 2026 before the person can actually get it. I imagine the Green Party would be long out of Government by that stage.
In his reply, the Minister talked about the challenges in building up capacity. One could swear that the Minister had just landed around the Cabinet table last month. He has been there for years. In 2015, there were 30,000 retrofits for roof insulation and 30,000 for wall insulation. In 2020, that has been brought to about 7,000 for each. Some 40,000 fewer of those types of insulations are taking place. That is under the Minister's watch. I am aware we cannot sort out these homes overnight, and obviously we must deal with the mess the Government has done. This is why we argue for a change in terms of the proportion of the funding and increased expenditure for retrofit that comes from other sources and not from increases in carbon tax. There is a core issue. Maybe the Government will come together and say we should just send them blankets this winter. These houses have not had the retrofits they needed over the period the Minister has been in government, and many of these houses are heated with home heating oil.
Under this Government, the price of home heating oil for the houses in question has increased through direct taxation and, even more so, as a result of factors relating to geopolitical issues. We need to respond to that. We will vote in the next few minutes, and the Minister will vote to do nothing about the price of home heating oil. I do not think that is appropriate. There needs to be a one-off, targeted, time-bound intervention in this regard. That would be that sensible solution. We had to engage in a bit of cajoling and pushing in respect of the Minister when, time and again, we raised with him the need to do something about petrol and diesel. He bought into that. As is the case in respect of many issues, it takes a great deal of campaigning to force the Minister to see the light. He has abandoned all of the homes to which I refer, particularly those in rural communities. A third of all homes in the State, including two thirds of homes in the west and north west, will have to be heated using home heating oil this winter. We have the ability to do something about them here, but the Minister has decided not to do anything. That is wrong.
The best way to deal with this is, as Deputy Matthews said, by making sure that we have a fit-for-purpose system that allows for retrofitting, including shallow and deep retrofitting, that is affordable, accessible and available to as many homes as possible. That means ramping up. We are at a fraction of the level we were at in 2011 and 2015. The Government has allowed this to fall to the wayside. The Government sat around the Cabinet table and not one Minister thought that maybe we should think about environmental matters or training people to do deep retrofitting. In 2011, between roof insulation and cavity insulation, 100,000 properties were retrofitted. By 2013, that had dropped to approximately 30,000. Not a single Minister has put a plan in place, which is why people have been waiting for 27 months in respect of applications. We cannot sort that out today. It will take time. The Minister is right about the skills required. Deputy Matthews talked about encouraging people to apply. There are 9,000 people in the warmer homes scheme. They cannot get the work done. There is significant demand in respect of that scheme.
We need to deal with the winter now. There is an option to reduce the cost of home heating oil over the winter months. I have argued strongly that this should happen. I have focused on that point, but there are also arguments about petrol and diesel.
Whatever Deputy Doherty's view is of the future of the Green Party or my future, the Green Party has always been clear about what our policies should be. Those policies have always been about future-proofing this country in the context of energy by improving energy efficiency and making energy affordable for residents and for the people of our country in general. On the previous occasion were in government, we introduced higher standards of energy efficiency in housing. We have seen the benefit of having built that more energy efficiency housing over the last couple of years. We have always been clear that the route we need to take is to invest in renewable energy, including solar and offshore and onshore wind energy. Credit should be given to EirGrid for its magnificent work over the past decade. When the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, previously held office, he set a target of 40% of electricity to be generated from renewables. That target has been met. We have now set a target of 80%, which will be met because we have also improved the target for offshore renewables to 7 GW. We also have to raise onshore wind and solar energy targets to that level.
Sinn Féin has launched its renewable energy policy today. It is great to see that it is a ringing endorsement of everything the Green Party has been saying for years and the Government policies that we are implementing at the moment. Sinn Féin is calling for reform of the planning system. Deputy Doherty might be aware that we are going through a significant reform of the planning system. That is being led by the Attorney General. I am glad to see the Deputy supports that. He also called for a dedicated environmental court. He may have seen the announcements last week that progress has been made on a dedicated planning and environmental court to assist with the complexity of many planning cases and appeals, and to assist and enable people who have the right to seek justice under the terms of the Aarhus Convention. Access to judicial reviews will be dealt with in a timely and speedy manner by a dedicated court.
In its energy policy document, Sinn Féin calls for €2.1 million for environmental NGOs, which is the exact figure that the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Commissions has apportioned to the environmental NGOs. I am glad to see Sinn Féin's endorsement of that. Sinn Féin also calls for the resourcing of EirGrid, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU, and An Bord Pleanála. I understand that 67 people have recently been appointed to positions in the CRU. There are extra positions in An Bord Pleanála, especially for maritime planning. Extra resources have been allocated to the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority, which will be critical to the delivery of offshore renewables.
Sinn Féin is seeking to expand renewable energy. I totally agree with it on that, so I thank Deputy Doherty.
It is an endorsement. It is good to get that endorsement. I commend Sinn Féin. I am able to say that it is doing the right thing. I do not often say it but I welcome this policy. I also welcome that Sinn Féin has dropped its Tory-influenced energy price cap. It was a ridiculous idea that Sinn Féin jumped up to call for a couple of months ago while the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications took the route of negotiating at European level for marginal price capping. The latter would be more equitable.
That is the difference between Sinn Féin and the Green Party. We think about the future. We are honest and direct in our policies. We know exactly what needs to be done and we are delivering on that. Sinn Féin's energy policy announcement today is an endorsement of that.
The change to mineral oil and home heating oil tax will not come in until May 2023. We are already recognising that winter is a difficult period for so many. That is why we have phased increases to come in after the harsh weather of this time has hopefully faded. Going back to what I said earlier, on the one hand, Deputy Doherty wants more retrofitting programmes, but he is against the carbon tax that helps to pay for them, on the other. I have looked at his budget day statement and at Sinn Féin's alternative budget now that it is available again for me to look at. It states that it would deliver a modest surplus for this year that would allow for a dynamic and flexible response to the cost-of-living crisis in the time ahead. Is the reality not that he has made the case for spending the corporate tax receipts when we are not entirely confident that they will increase in the future as they have in the past? If we were to implement the approach that he has been advocating, we would be exiting Covid with the need to borrow more money and we would be facing into a big change in the global economy having already spent the money that we need for the future.
Deputy Matthews makes an excellent point. It is interesting that Deputy Doherty has spent most of his time addressing this amendment by talking about retrofitting. The amendment is about taxation. We are dealing with the Finance Bill, so that is what the amendment should be about. The Deputy spent much time talking about retrofitting, but I cannot find any reference to the price cap in Sinn Féin's flagship energy policy in any amendment that the party has tabled. There are amendments about everything else, but the policy that the Deputy pushed so hard a number of weeks ago has disappeared from the debate.
How did the Deputy feel at his party's recent Ard-Fheis when his party leader was hitting out at the UK Government for its economic track record, given that the policy the Deputy advocated is associated with much of the risk and harm that the UK Government is now having to grapple with? On one hand his party leader was attacking the UK Government for measures that have had an impact on its economy, but on the other hand he has advocated the same measure. How did it feel for his party and himself to be associated with the very measure the British Government is now saying it wants to bring to an end and knows it needs to replace? Maybe the Deputy will say in a moment that he will bring this amendment forward on Report Stage - that he will bring forward a proposal at that point to ask the Government to consider implementing the policies he was advocating so strongly up to a few weeks ago - but I am not going to hold my breath.
There is a lot to go back on there. I will begin by responding to Deputy Matthews through the Chair. When Sinn Féin members were arguing over a year ago for the restructuring of the wholesale energy market at European level, who championed the opposition to that in Europe on behalf of Ireland? It was the Green Party leader - the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan - who clubbed together with a number of other Ministers to reject efforts which would have been of benefit to individuals right across the State. I am glad the Deputy has taken an interest in our measures. I hope he will look at some of the measures the Government is not introducing, such as the provision of Exchequer funding to do far more in terms of energy. It needs to do more. By way of example, was it Sinn Féin that brought forward legislation regarding green hydrogen, on which the Government still does not have a strategy? It has been delayed over and over again. We need changes to the retrofit scheme so that those on middle incomes can actually benefit from it.
The Minister likes to accurate all the time but he tends to change the debate. Last night, his argument was that Sinn Féin is going to have deficits left, right and centre. Now he is saying that our policy creates a modest surplus. It cannot be both. He cannot flip-flop overnight. When he is confronted by the truth, the spin drops aside. I encourage him to not go down the route of his party leader, one of whose first actions after being elected as Taoiseach was to set up a spin unit which we were successful in having dismantled.
Let us be clear on a number of things. The Minister has acknowledged that we argued for a surplus. That was based on the summer economic statement. He knows that the Budgetary Oversight Committee asked him on a number of occasions to bring forward the white paper. We said that it was likely to contain different numbers from those in the summer economic statement and would have a larger surplus. He did not do so. He announced it on the Friday night at midnight and, therefore, the Opposition could not use those numbers. We were governed by the summer economic statement even though we knew the surplus would be far more than a modest one. We could not make that claim because we did not have the numbers which the Minister would then publish at the weekend. The point is that there was a surplus. Therefore, the accusation, the spin and the fearmongering we heard from the Minister last night is inaccurate. The previous alternative budget we brought forward last year actually had the same net expenditure as what the Government had planned. I say all of this to lay bare the lies, the spin, the accusations and the fear-mongering that his party is involved in regarding Sinn Féin. If he wants to go down that road, that is fine but it is up to him.
I want to make it clear to Deputy Mathews and the Minister that I stand 100% over the fact that we should have an energy price cap. Just last week, I raised the fact that Germany has now introduced an energy price cap. Is it not the case that Germany has introduced an energy price cap? Like many counties across Europe, Germany is bringing certainty to its citizens that energy prices will not go up over the winter period. The Minister is refusing to do that. Instead, he is trying to scaremonger and suggest that the reason his party's sister party, the Tory Party in Britain, got into so much of an economic mess was because it introduced Sinn Féin policy. I will make two things clear here. The Tory Party in Britain introduced a price cap for electricity and gas for a two-year period. Sinn Féin has argued for a price cap for five months and the Labour Party in Britain argued for a price cap for six months. We argued that the cap should only be on electricity; in Britain it was introduced on electricity and gas. As the Minister knows, the introduction of this cap was not the issue that impacted the markets because they did not announce that in the budget but announced it two weeks beforehand. If he is honest with this committee, the Minister will admit that he knows all too well what happened with the chaos in the markets in Britain. The British Government's finance spokesperson announced a budget which involved unfunded tax cuts for the rich. That was the issue. What have the Brits done now? They have abandoned those tax cuts, they have adopted the Labour Party policy of a price cap for six months, which is further than we would go, and they have introduced this for electricity and gas; which again goes further than we would. Our policy is not the Tory Party policy which got the UK into trouble. Indeed, the cause of the issues there was the proposed cuts to benefit the most wealthy. The Minister's party policies, rather than those of Sinn Féin, are probably more akin to such an approach. If he wants to be truthful and honest, the Minister will say that he knows the reaction in the markets happened as a result of the budget measures brought in by the Tories, which mainly involved tax cuts for elites. The price cap was announced two weeks previously and did not provoke the same reaction. As I have said, I would not agree with that type of price cap. I am not arguing that we should have a price cap for two years or that we should have a price cap for gas. What I am arguing for is a price cap on electricity for five months over the winter period. This is similar to what the Labour Party in Britain advocated, although it went further, and is what the Brits, in terms of the Tory Government, have now had to come back to.
Does the Minister think Germany is reckless for introducing a price cap for its citizens? What about the other European countries, representatives of which he sits around with in the Eurogroup? Will he look their finance ministers in the face and tell them they are being reckless in what they are doing? The measures we are proposing do not even go as far as Germany or many other countries throughout the European Union. I remind the Minister that he shares his time at the Eurogroup, which he chairs, with the finance ministers of those countries. The Minister can carry on with his scaremongering but he should at least try to be accurate. The point I am making is that it does not wash.
The reason I focused on and raised the issue of retrofits was to try to convey a point. One third of people across the State heat their homes with home heating oil and two thirds of them are in rural communities, such as those in the north west and along the Border. I could go on at length about this. When one examines the statistics for deprivation and disposable income, one finds that many Border communities are at the lower end of the scale. As these are poorer households, they have less energy efficiency, as shown in the statistics, in their homes. They do not have the ability to have their homes retrofitted in a timely manner. That is the point I am making. I am never going to stop pointing out to the Minister, who is a former Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and a former Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and has sat around the Cabinet table for the guts of a decade, that he has allowed for deep and shallow retrofitting in those homes to decline by a massive scale. He failed to plan in terms of workforce and in terms of resources to make sure those houses would be up to standard. That is his legacy in this regard. It might be uncomfortable for him to hear that as he exits the door of the Department of Finance, but I am going to lay that out for him because it is the lived experience and reality of people in my constituency. The amendment I have before this committee today seeks to do something positive for those individuals over the winter months - to reduce the price of heating their homes by bringing about a decrease of €117 in the price of a fill of home heating oil. That is what we could do here today. We cannot go back to when the Minister started in government. We cannot sort out all the inadequacies in his approach, such as his failure to plan for this, but we can do something positive today to reduce the impact on these people. That is why I will be pressing this amendment.
I want to bring matters to a conclusion shortly. I acknowledge ideology and debate are important, but not all the points being made have related to the amendments.
On the retrofitting budget, I understand there is an €8 billion State investment. It should have been done a long time ago but the truth of the matter is it is there now and, over the next ten, 20 and 30 years, every house, building and structure will have to be energy-retrofitted. We are scaling up to that at the moment and there is investment in it. Many jobs are being created in retrofitting. I know many people who are starting electrical apprenticeships in fitting solar panels and they have a future ahead of them of 30 or 40 years of good, clean, well-paid work.
On the Deputy’s reference to the hydrogen strategy, he is correct. We have not yet completed our hydrogen strategy, but work is ongoing on that. As I recall, his party’s Private Members' Bill relating to hydrogen took a simplistic view of just saying hydrogen is great and asking why nobody is doing something about it. In fact, we are doing something about it on the ground and, as he will or at least should know, the additional 2 GW of offshore renewable we discussed is intended to feed into hydrogen gas and we can have benefits from that as a country, either in the exporting of that hydrogen gas or the use of it in industry or transport. We have seen the investment in the Foynes railway line, which is going to be a key part of the Shannon Estuary and is probably going to be the centre of our hydrogen industry over the next decade. Hydrogen is developing and we are putting that infrastructure in place on the ground and investing in our ports, in Rosslare, Cork and at Shannon, in order that we will be ready for that renewable industry. We are taking action on the ground, and while it may not be noticeable to the Deputy, it is significant action that is going to deliver over the next ten and 20 years. That has always been our Green Party policy. It is not about immediate popularity and soundbites; we leave that to other parties. We plan for the future, and that is exactly what we are doing.
Yes, I have not heard anyone. I do not want to breach committee protocol by asking Deputy Matthews a question because I am sure Standing Orders do not allow that, but I think he stated a moment ago that he had not seen any reference to the cap in Sinn Féin's energy document that was published today, where it appears to be missing in action-----
If that is what we need to do, that is what we need to do. Not only does the policy the Deputy recommitted to appear to be missing in the document his party published today, it is not mentioned in any of his amendments. He has not brought it forward at any point in any amendment that is due to be debated in respect of the Bill. I think the reason it is not referenced relates to the fact that, in his heart of hearts, he knows that this policy would ultimately be unaffordable for the country and would tie up our national finances to the price of something we cannot predict. If he does not know that, I put it to him that he should recognise it as a risk.
I return to the point I made earlier, which is not scaremongering or trying to put fear into people. The Deputy wants more of something in retrofitting, but he is against the tax that is helping fund it, namely, carbon tax. He wants more homes to be retrofitted and he wants more investment in a lower carbon future, but he is against the tax that is helping to co-fund that investment. He voted against it on the four occasions on which I have brought it forward or increased it and, as I understand it, he is against further increases in it, although he might elaborate on that if the Chair allows. I made the point regarding the impact the Deputy’s policies would have on our economy and the need for it to borrow.
I referred a moment ago to the fact he made reference to a modest surplus in his budget document, but just because he wishes something so does not make it so. Just because he wants there to be a modest surplus in place next year does not mean there will be. I can see what his party's Deputies and Councillors throughout the country are doing at the moment, with all the groups they meet and the speeches they make in the Dáil that promise more and more spending. The reality is that money has to come from somewhere, and the taxes he proposes to pay for it will either be insufficient to pay for that increased spending or will harm our economy, damage jobs within it and reduce the ability of our economy to grow and pay for the spending he wants. That is not scaremongering; it is a legitimate political debate for the two of us to engage in, and the Deputy's interruptions will only increase my enthusiasm for making those points to him.
To cut through some of the - what is the parliamentary word for this? - bluff and bluster from the Minister, this is the Finance Bill. I would not bring forward amendments relating to expenditure or how we deal with expenditure. I have to hand a copy of the list of amendments to the Finance Bill that I have tabled and I can read them out. Every one of them is tax related. Will the Minister accept that point or does he want to keep on with his spin? They relate to the foreign earnings deduction, the local property tax, the renter's tax credit, tax reliefs and subsidies for pensions, refundable tax credits, tax treatment of international investors, banks and tax, capital gains tax, section 481 relief, tax on home heating oil, tax on petrol and diesel, zero rate on VAT on safety products and school uniforms, stamp duty, again local property tax and the defective concrete products levy. That is what my amendments to the Bill relate to.
The Minister again makes his accusations and hopes they will land somewhere, and he says he would not criticise the finance minister of Germany or wherever. The Brits crashed their economy because the Minister's party’s sister party, which shares the same party at the European Union, the European People’s Party, EPP, tried to introduce tax cuts for the wealthy. Our policy is about certainty over the winter months, a very specific period, and only in respect of one form of energy. That is what Germany and other countries in Europe have done.
I think approximately eight or nine of them have brought in a form of certainty on the caps. However, it suits the Minister's narrative of scaremongering with regard to the big, bad wolf of Sinn Féin. Many people out there say Sinn Féin could not be much worse than what they have. I know we would be far better. The Minister said last night that it was about who cares the most. That is not what it is about. It is about ideology. That is why, as we had in the debate last night, the Minister does not believe we should tax institutional investors who pay no rents. It is why the Minister argues the banking levy was cut last year by €70 million and, yet, he will argue later on that we should put up the price of housing at a time when housing is at a sky-high level.
The amendment is about trying to help people over the winter months especially with regard to home heating oil. It is about trying to make sure they can stay warm and safe during those winter months. If Germany, France, Denmark, Austria and many other countries throughout Europe can introduce it, we should be able to do the same and, indeed, what they have done is far more expansive than what we are arguing for. We are arguing for it up until the end of February.
I made the point on budget day that we would vote against this. We understand smoking is not a good thing for public health. However, we do not think it is fair to simply financially penalise people who are cigarette-addicted. The better way to address public health issues around smoking is through education, rather than financially penalising people who are victims of an addiction. That is the reason I am opposing the section.
I move amendment No. 59:
In page 91, to delete lines 5 to 7, inclusive, and substitute the following:
“44. (1) Section 46 of the Principal Act is amended, in subsection (1)(caa), by the substitution of “28 February 2023” for “31 October 2022”.
(2) The Minister shall, before 14 February 2023, cause a report to be laid before Dáil Éireann on the revenue foregone as a result of the operation of subsection (1)(caaa), and the impact on domestic households of not further extending the period provided for by the subsection.”.
At the end of February, the flat rate on gas and electricity bills will go back up to 13.5% from 9%, which is the current rate. On budget night, a resolution was passed to further extend the VAT rate cut to the end of February. We are proposing to extend the VAT rate cut on electricity and gas bills out to the end of 2023. The approximate costing I received from the Minister, given the varying interpretations, is around €150 million to €160 million to extend that to the end of 2023. We know the €200 credit is expiring next April and whatever about gas bills, electricity bills will still be an issue with the ever-rising cost of electricity. We are asking the Minister to consider further extending the VAT rate cut from 13.5% to 9% out to the end of 2023. That would remain in existence to assist hard-pressed families throughout the remainder of 2023.
In asking for this measure to be extended, the Deputy explicitly acknowledges that it is a measure that helps and, as he said, that measure will be in place up to 28 February next year. By continuing it from 1 November to 28 February, the measure is aimed to provide support at what we know is the coldest time of the year. I would make the case to the Deputy that the appropriate thing to do is to review where we stand at the end of February before deciding if the extension of a measure like this is merited. If the Government decides that we are going to extend the lower VAT rate for gas and electricity, the Deputy would understandably ask me why we do not extend all of the other measures we have in place, for example, with regard to excise on fuel, beyond their current end date at the end of February as well. I believe that what we should do is assess where we are with the price of fuel at that point and decide if an extension is merited. I hope it will not be and that we will see an improvement in the cost of living by then. In any event, I think the right time to answer that question is then, rather than now. While I can completely understand the logic behind the case the Deputy is making, and I can understand the assurance it would offer, given the scale of money that is involved in the extension, I believe the Government would be safer with the country's money by deciding this early next year.
I thank the Minister for his response and there is some logic to what he is saying.
The suggestion is that many measures, and the position more generally, will be examined in the spring because it is inevitable that this will have to be the case. When the once-off measures wear off at the end of this year and we strip them away, we will see that budget 2023 proper will not have the kind of impact that some might suggest. There have been efforts to amalgamate the welcome once-off measures that are in place and those that will come into place towards the end of the year with the budget measures in 2023 to suggest the budget is more equitable and progressive than it is.
I hope the Minister will review this in the spring. As I said, I believe it is inevitable. The cost-of-living crisis will not go away for those on lower or middle incomes. For many it is a permanent cost-of-living problem. The committee debated this yesterday and we had a debate on it in the Dáil and other fora in the weeks since the budget. Those who are earning between €25,000 and €35,000 will benefit to the tune of just under €200 as a result of the tax changes that have been made, while somebody who is earning much more, for example, someone earning €100,000, will benefit to the tune of over €800 as a consequence of these changes. Once the once-off measures are taken out, next year will be a difficult one for those on lower and middle incomes. Every tool available to the Government must be used. I am satisfied that the Minister has committed to reassessing the situation next spring. It is inevitable that it must happen and I would prefer it to happen now. The introduction of an extension to the VAT reduction would give some reassurance and certainty. I await developments over the next number of weeks to see how that evolves.
This amendment deals with the VAT reduction on electricity and gas. I have a specific question. We discussed home heating oil earlier. The Minister has reduced the VAT rate on gas until the end of February in this Finance Bill and will review the position in spring. Does he have any concerns about the fairness of the Bill given that it does not provide any measures to directly support the hundreds of thousands of homes that use home heating oil rather than gas? There is a measure in the Bill for people who happen to live in Dublin, Cork or elsewhere and heat their homes with gas, but the Minister has decided not to do anything on home heating oil. Does he have any concern about the fairness of that because it does not seem to be very equitable?
As I said to Deputy Nash, this is a matter that will have to be reassessed when we get to the early part of 2023. While I hope the situation will improve by then, we cannot be certain of that by any means. The decision will be made at that point regarding whether this measure should be extended or, as we hope, moderated or even phased out if the living standard circumstances allow us to do that.
On home heating oil, the VAT reduction does not cover home heating oil as this is provided for by way of a historical derogation. It is, therefore, not legally possible to reduce these items to 9%. Under the derogation, the lowest level that solid fuels can be reduced to is 12%. If we were to reduce VAT on kerosene to 12%, the saving would be small, although I know that every saving does make a difference. It would amount to approximately €20 per 1,000 litres but there would be considerable additional costs to the Exchequer. This is because Ireland would also have to reduce the rate for all the other areas that are also subject to the 13.5% VAT rate at the same time, as we are only allowed to have two reduced VAT rates under EU law.
While the Minister could not reduce VAT, or if he did he would have to introduce a basket of other measures, he could reduce excise. My question, therefore, stands. Does the Minister not believe there is an issue of fairness here when he is taking measures to reduce the cost for some households to heat their homes this winter and not taking the measure open to him in respect of excise duty on home heating oil? There will, therefore, be no support for hundreds of thousands of other households.
The case I have made to the Deputy is that I would ask those households to view the budget in the round. The reason the change in the carbon tax on home heating oil will not take effect until May is in recognition of the circumstances of those homes that are dependent on home heating oil. I have tried to give recognition to that by phasing in the increase in carbon taxes, so at least the situation does not get worse. The reason we have €4 billion of measures overall is to try to help those families in other ways.
While things will not get worse for those who heat their homes through gas, the Minister will ensure, through the measures that were taken last year and extended this year, that things will be better for them in respect of a reduced cost. The Minister could do the same for home heating oil but he has decided not to do so. There is an issue of fairness here as there are over 500,000 households who heat their homes using home heating oil and the Minister has decided not to address this. The Minister's answer is that he is not going to make their situation worse until May. He is not making it any better and it is open to him to do so.
On excise, I go back to our earlier discussion. In the round, I have to be confident that we are able to afford everything that we do. The parts of excise that still apply to home heating oil are mostly related to carbon tax and we have had this discussion before on carbon tax. Our carbon tax revenue is playing a very important part in investing into a lower carbon and better future for our country. I accept the flexibility that is there-----
This section deals with section 110 companies. The Commission on Taxation and Welfare recommended a review of the tax treatment of section 110 companies and the Minister committed to that in his budget speech. Such a review is long overdue and Sinn Féin has been calling for one year after year, most recently in June 2021. These calls have been repeatedly ignored by the Minister and his Government. There is a sound reason for the tax review. As I said, just as the Minister is exiting the door of the Department of Finance, perhaps he is seeing the light with respect to some of the mistakes that have been made.
There is good reason there needs to be a review of section 110 companies and their tax treatment. We have seen some of the media commentary in recent times. Mark Paul in The Irish Timeslast year reported that three vulture funds connected with Goldman Sachs paid no corporation tax in 2019, despite the fact that they collected €390 million from their portfolios in the same year. The Minister knows that for years he and his party, Fine Gael, have allowed vulture funds to buy up distressed mortgages, to engage in aggressive tax avoidance and to reduce their tax liabilities to zero, despite making huge profits. That has resulted in a huge loss of revenue to the State.
In 2016 I presented a detailed submission to the then Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, on the changes we needed to see in respect of section 110 companies and tax avoidance practices. I acknowledge that in 2019 some changes were made. Those changes took effect only in 2020. We now need to evaluate their impact in restricting the ability of these funds to write off income against certain interest payments. We need to see how effective they have been in tackling aggressive tax avoidance. There are serious gaps in that regard. Over 2018 and 2019, for example, a subsidiary of vulture fund Cerberus called Promontoria (Oyster) Designated Activity Company was able to reduce its tax liability by €27 million by writing off its income against asset management fees, despite the fact that those fees were paid to a company affiliate in the Netherlands. One arm was paying the other arm, in a way, to reduce the company's tax liability.
We know that the tax code continues to allow these funds to use complex tax and company arrangements to reduce their tax liability against the interests of the Irish taxpayer. I welcome the fact that the Minister is finally committing to review this. The action we should see will be left to his successor, if he is to have a successor in the Department of Finance following the changeover in the Government at the end of the year.
May I ask the Minister about the section itself? It deals with a change in respect of the activities on which VAT is charged and the deduction of VAT incurred on a management charge. Does it deal with management fees and the writing off of section 110 income against management fees or does it apply just to VAT?
Yes. To give the committee a fuller answer, the section amends paragraph 6(2)(e) of Schedule 1 to the principal Act. The purpose of the amendment is to bring Irish VAT legislation into line with rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union. The amendment removes the VAT exemption in respect of the management of certain section 110 companies that do not meet the conditions to qualify as a special investment fund for the purposes of the exemption. The amendment, therefore, deals only with VAT.
I have a question going back a long way. Like Deputy Doherty, we have questioned section 110 and how it allows some of these companies to reduce their tax liability. Are there figures available for the amount of tax forgone in respect of section 110?
I have tabled amendments relating to VAT rates of 0%. I will be brief on this. This section deals with the zero-rating of items in respect of the media industry and certain medical and sanitary products. I support the section, particularly in respect of medical and sanitary products. I say that because I will focus on the media part of the section if that is okay.
We know that on budget day the Minister announced the application of a VAT rate of 0% on newspapers and news periodicals. News periodicals are gone, so The Phoenixmagazine, for example, will no longer be subject to a 0% rate. I want to hear clarification on the reason for that. Why have news periodicals been dropped from the Minister's budget speech? Why does the commitment he gave on budget day no longer appear within the Finance Bill? Will he outline the news periodicals that will now be impacted? He may refer to Magilland The Phoenix, but how far are we talking about, and where is the motivation of him and his party or his Government coming from for this? I would like to come back in when I get that clarification.
I have a similar question. On budget day the Minister did seem to include periodicals. Many magazines are very informative and very educational and bring opportunities for journalists as well, so I would also like clarification as to why the reference to periodicals was dropped and what the implications would have been of including-----
In my budget day speech I said "newspapers". If I were to reduce the VAT on news periodicals from 9% to 0%, I would have to reduce the VAT on all periodicals to zero. The cost of doing that would be €15 million. I gave a commitment in respect of newspapers, which we are honouring in this Finance Bill. If, however, we were to do that to periodicals as well, it would be for all periodicals. The cost of that would be €15 million. I do not believe that would be a good use of our money in the context of the fact that news periodicals are a small share of the overall periodicals sector. It is worth saying the VAT on them is still 9%, which is a reduction from 13.5% previously.
I am just asking my officials to check. I am being told that my budget day speech referred to newspapers. Then, when we went to check this, because the issue was raised with us afterwards, we found that I would not be able to split out news periodicals from other periodicals. That would mean having to reduce the VAT on all periodicals to zero.
I will need to triple-check the exact detail of my budget day speech, but based on what my officials here have informed me, I am pretty sure we said newspapers.
Obviously, the Minister's speech does not encompass all the tax changes, but did the tax changes document published as part of the budget day package include newspapers and news periodicals or did it just include newspapers?
I have been told the budget day documents included news periodicals, but when we went to see if we could reduce the rate for news periodicals on their own, we found we would have to reduce the rate for all periodicals. I believe that €15 million would be a big cost to pay to do that.
However, that was not checked before the budget documents were published where the Minister committed to reducing the VAT on news periodicals. I have it here in front of me. Was it that he did not get that checked out beforehand?
My budget day speech was clear but I accept the budget day documentation made reference to periodicals. When we double-checked if this was possible, we found it would have meant moving all periodicals to a zero rate of VAT.
The full year of the measure the Minister is introducing in the Finance Bill is €33 million, but the full-year cost of the measure announced in budget day documents, which included newspapers, news periodicals and digital editions, was €39 million. Is that okay?
At that point, that is what we believed it would be. It has since been clarified to me that we can only change news periodicals if we move all periodicals at the same time. That cost would be €9 million to €15 million more.
Fine. In terms of their online editions, the Bill proposes to provide for zero-rate VAT for newspapers, including digital editions. How will Sunday newspapers work in this regard? What is the difference between a weekly published newspaper and a weekly news periodical? Is it the paper it is printed on? What is the definition in VAT law? Let us consider, for example, Phoenixmagazine and the Sunday Independent. How is one deemed a periodical and one deemed a newspaper? Is it the material it is printed on?
The term "newspaper" is not defined in Irish or European VAT legislation. It is given an ordinary meaning, which is widely understood, as a publication that is published periodically to report on local, national and international news and current affairs.
I think the Deputy asked me about e-newspapers. That is not defined in Irish or European VAT legislation, but it is understood as a newspaper published in digital format. There is no requirement in the amendment that an e-newspaper must have a printed equivalent to benefit from the zero rate of VAT.
I support the measure but I am trying to understand it. I am using brand names and it is no reflection on any of the brand names I am using, including the Phoenixand the Sunday Independent, which I have already mentioned. Let us consider just e-publications. The Currencyis just an online publication. Will that now fall within the zero-rate VAT directive?
I am reluctant to give an evaluation in respect of a particular publication like that. I am accompanied by an official from Revenue who is not indicating to me that I should. I will need to come back to the Deputy on that or perhaps to the company itself.
I appreciate that. It might have been unfair for me to ask a question about a specific company. I am not trying to talk about the actual online publication, but rather about the types thereof. A weekly Sunday newspaper - I do not want to give a brand name - which has a digital edition only will qualify for zero rate VAT in future.
I go back to the original intention the Minister announced on budget day, which was that news periodicals would qualify for zero-rate VAT. A 9% rate of VAT will apply to those news periodicals. What is the distinction between a weekly online newspaper - because it must be deemed to be a newspaper - and a news periodical? How can I tell the difference between them? What are the distinguishing criteria between a news periodical that is online and a newspaper that is solely online? As there are no written criteria, how do we distinguish between them?
The Revenue will need to make an interpretation of the law. What is a periodical and what is a newspaper is not defined in VAT legislation. I have attempted to explain the difference. It may refer to the regularity of publication. It may refer to whether it is seen to be a newspaper or a magazine. I accept there is a change between this and what was contained in the budget day documentation. However, when we investigated whether it was possible to take out news periodicals and periodicals, I was informed it was not.
That is fine, but the problem is we are now dealing with a section that costs €33 million and the Minister is saying we do not know who is in and who is out at this time. It is crucial for us, as members of the committee who will be voting on this issue, to get clarity, even if that requires us going into private session. It is important for us to know what is in and what is out. I do not know how we will define a news periodical that is published only online once a week and compare that with a newspaper which is published only online once a week. What criteria will we use to distinguish between them? One could argue Horse & Houndis giving news information to its readers on an equine centre. That is not what we are talking about here. We are talking about current affairs.
Given the change that has taken place, it is important we get a bit of clarity from Revenue on this.
We resume on section 56, amendment No. 60, which is in the names of Deputies Mattie McGrath, Nolan, O'Donoghue, Michael Healy-Rae,
Michael Collins and Danny Healy-Rae. Is there anybody present to move the amendment? As there is not, the amendment falls.
I move amendment No. 61:
In page 97, between lines 23 and 24, to insert the following: “Report on applying on the application of a zero rate of VAT on children’s car safety seats
56.The Minister shall, within six months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before Dáil Éireann a report on the application of a zero rate of VAT on children’s car safety seats, including baby seats, child seats, booster seats or booster cushions.”.
This amendment seeks to prepare a report on the application of a zero rate of VAT on children's car safety seats including baby seats, child seats, booster seats and booster cushions. I will also speak to amendment No. 62, which looks at options in terms of the application of a zero or reduced rate of VAT on school uniforms.
Under the VAT directive, children's car safety seats now have a zero rate of VAT applied but are currently charged at the reduced rate. As the Minister knows, it is the law for children to use car seats when they travel. That is a tax that disproportionately impacts on those on lower incomes and those with multiple children. Indeed, the cost of the safety equipment can put some of the children at risk through no fault of their own because people simply cannot afford the more expensive or safer types of seats. Therefore, given that the directive now allows for us to zero rate this essential safety equipment, it would be appropriate for this to be examined in terms of VAT, for which the amendment calls.
It is a legal requirement that up to when a child reaches a certain age, height and weight, he or she must be in a certain type of seat moving from baby seats, which will have different levels of safety depending on how much is spent on them or the types of seats, up to booster seats, which are relatively cheap in the context of the earlier types of seats. These are for older children to ensure the safety belt does not choke them in a scenario where the brakes are pressed suddenly.
Amendment No. 62 looks at the zero rate of VAT applied to children's clothing and footwear, which already exists under law, for those aged under 11 years. We know that school costs are significant and that they disproportionately hit lower income families. Really, we are asking whether there is any scope at all to reduce the rate of VAT on school uniforms and whether that is permissible under the EU legislation. I am not sure if it is myself. The report would look at a way around this. Those are the two amendments I propose.
I thank the Deputy. The VAT rating of goods and services is subject to the requirements of EU VAT law with which our law must comply. Following an agreement finalised earlier this year, the VAT directive now permits each member state to apply a zero rate to seven categories within annex III. These are categories one to six as well as category 10(c). These categories for a zero rate do not apply to car seats, however. Therefore, it is not possible under the EU directive to make the change being sought here.
On the issue of school uniforms, it should be noted that up until the annex III change, Ireland had a derogation that provided for children’s clothing and footwear to be subject to the zero rate for children up to and including 11 years. The zero rating applied according to the following criteria: all children's clothing of sizes up to and including 32 inch chest or 26 inch waist, and children's footwear up to and including size 5.5, which is a 38 continental or equivalent size. What the annex III change has done from a zero VAT rate perspective with regard to children’s clothing and footwear is allow us to maintain the existing derogation going forward. It does not, however, permit us to expand its scope to all school uniforms that do not meet the above criteria.
For these reasons, I am not able to accept the Deputy’s amendments. Obviously, if the Deputy would like me to send him on a note between now and Report Stage making clear why these items are out of the categories to which I referred, I will be very happy to do so if it would be of help to him.
Yes, that would be helpful. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, the issue of school uniforms will be challenging given the directive. A note in terms of the safety of car seats would be beneficial between now and Report Stage. On that basis, I withdraw both of my amendments.
I move amendment No. 62:
In page 97, between lines 23 and 24, to insert the following:
“Report on applying on the application of a zero rate of VAT on school uniforms
56.The Minister shall, within six months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before Dáil Éireann a report on options for the application of a zero or reduced rate of VAT on school uniforms.”.
On section 57, will the Minister clarify an issue? In a case of a parent of a group of companies where two of its subsidiaries bought partial interest of say 50% each in 18 residential homes, they would be caught under this measure because it would apply to the parent, would it not? You cannot define, okay.
In regard to the issue of home reversions, has there been evidence of this taking place on a larger scale? Were the Revenue Commissioners applying the 10% rate up until this proposed change to the Finance Bill to home reversion?
Section 59 concerns the repayment of stamp duty. I have a specific question in this regard. Yesterday we spoke of institutional investors and their practice of forward-purchasing apartment blocks in particular. We know the 10% stamp duty does not apply to apartment blocks. However it is our understanding that a number of institutional investors have now started forward-funding the construction of homes. That means they are not just entering into agreement to purchase them but they are actually putting up the money upfront and forward-funding the purchase and therefore no conveyance is taking place. This means they are exempt from the 10% stamp duty. Have either the Department or the Revenue Commissioners any information or evidence to suggest there is a change in regard to the practice which means there is no conveyance and therefore this stamp duty does not apply?
I have not been notified of that but I have checked with my colleagues and we are not aware of this as a behaviour. Obviously if Deputy Doherty has a concern about it and has an example, we will be happy to have a look at it.
Just to clarify this, in a forward-funding arrangement by an institutional investor with a developer who is going to build say, 40 houses and an institutional investor goes into a forward-funding arrangement with him - as opposed to a forward-purchase arrangement as under forward-purchasing they would have to pay the stamp duty - but under a forward-funding arrangement, would the stamp duty apply?
According to what my colleague is telling me, the agreement would be treated as conveyance but I will share a note with Deputy Doherty on the matter because while I have no doubt that the answer I am getting here is correct, it is quite technical and I do not wish to mislead the Deputy.
This is not going to make a material change in shares that are captured. If Deputy Doherty wants a list of what share transactions will still be captured as a result of this, I am happy to send it on to him. The purpose of this section is to make two technical changes in regard to the operation of the CREST system and there are more substantive amendments included in regard to electronic transfers of securities or interests in securities.
In regard to the concerns raised that electronic transfers of Irish shares that are not currently treated as stampable by the Revenue Commissioners, that is, those held in other settlements outside of the Euroclear system or Euroclear Bank Belgium and the CREST system, will they not be subject to stamp duty even after these changes?
The Revenue Commissioners inform me that this issue does not affect the matter the Deputy is raising. They also inform me that it is difficult to pursue the stamp duty in regard to transactions of that sort because there are issues in regard to the collection of that revenue. Again, given that this is a detailed matter, I am happy to give Deputy Doherty more information in regard to it between now and Report Stage.
I have been critical in regard to the decision in terms of the reduction in the banking levy. We know how the banking levy was introduced and how it is calculated in terms of reference points in regard to the amount of DIRT that is paid. However it was calculated in such a way that it would accrue €150 million. Two banks are now withdrawing from the Irish market. That is an unfortunate situation. I heard today that one of the banks is preparing to lay off hundreds of employees. The number of people I heard mentioned was 500. Our concerns and thoughts are with them. However the key thing here from a bank’s point of view is that while deposit accounts have been closed in those banks, and we can see from the beginning of this year until the end of October 2022, some 222,000 household deposit accounts have closed either in Ulster Bank or KBC with a similar amount, 212,000 opened with the remaining financial institutions.
The point I am making here is that the banks are withdrawing. They are leaving the State but their assets, in terms of loans, are going to other financial institutions. The deposits are going into other financial institutions. These banks will increase their profitability because they are now larger in scale and have a larger proportion of the market. Therefore, there is a strong argument that the banking levy should remain at least at €150 million. It is my view that it is probably the most appropriate, if we are talking about levies, to assist in terms of the defects caused by mica and pyrrhotite.
The banks will have many of their assets restored on their balance sheets. They have mortgages out against homes, in my county and elsewhere, that are valueless today. Those homes are really sites. Given the demolition of what is on them, they do not really have a value but, through the scheme through taxpayers' investment, the banks will have those assets restored on their balance sheets. Therefore, it would be appropriate to restore the banking levy to the level it was. That would be an appropriate mechanism to help part-finance the remediation works that have to take place over a sustained period of time in terms of defects.
Likewise, I acknowledge that today is a difficult day for former employees of Ulster Bank. This is a bank that had been present in Ireland for many decades. I am sure many of the staff who are now, unfortunately, losing their jobs never thought they would be in a position where a bank that they had worked for for so long would be departing. I acknowledge the difficult nature of today for many of them.
In terms of the bank levy and the future of it, the Deputy makes a fair point that the assets and liabilities of the exiting banks will be transferred over to the remaining three banks. That will impact on their scale and profitability. I believe we are at a point where we need to review the operation of the bank levy in advance of budget 2024. I have asked my officials to do that to assess what should be the design of the levy and what should be the level of revenue that we are aiming to receive from it in light of the changes that are taking place.
The Deputy and I differ in relation to this. I believe that the decision to exclude Ulster Bank and KBC from the levy in light of them winding up here in our country was the appropriate decision but I believe it is equally appropriate now to assess the operation of the level in advance of next year's budget.
I welcome that. I assume, although one can never assume anything, the Minister is looking at the fact that he has reduced the levy from €150 million to, as far as I understand it, €87 million and that this may be a signal that we could be looking at a larger take from the levy given that the profits and assets, and, indeed, liabilities and deposits, have remained within the Irish banking system. If that is the intention of the review, it is to be welcomed.
I reiterate the point that this is one of the areas which can contribute towards the high cost of dealing with the mess of an era during the greed of the Celtic tiger where Governments allowed for a sustained period of no or light-touch regulation in the building sector. There are so many victims as a result, unfortunately, in my home county and elsewhere.
I move amendment No. 63:
In page 114, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following: "Extension of farming reliefs
64.(1)The Principal Act is amended—(a)in section 81AA—(2)Subsection (1)shall come into operation on such day or days as the Minister for Finance may appoint by order.".(i)in subsection (7A), by the deletion of “as provided for by Article 18 of the EU Regulation”, andand
(ii)in subsection (16), by the substitution of “30 June 2023” for “31 December 2022”,(b)in section 81C—
(i)in subsection (1), in the definition of “relevant period”, by the substitution of “30 June 2023” for “31 December 2022”, and
(ii)in subsection (12), by the substitution of “30 June 2023” for “31 December 2022”.
I move amendment No. 64:
In page 114, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following: "Report on the application of stamp duty on the buy-back of shares
64.The Minister shall, within six months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before Dáil Éireann a report on the application of stamp duty on the purchase by companies of their own shares where that purchase is not affected by means of a stock transfer form.".
This is in relation to a report that is required on the application of stamp duty on the purchase by companies of their own shares where that purchase is not affected by means of a stock transfer form. We discussed this in the Dáil Chamber as recently as last week. At that time, I stated:
A stamp duty ... of 1% normally applies to the purchase of shares. Under certain circumstances, however, when a company buys its own shares, this charge does not apply. [That] stamp duty only applies when a share buyback takes place by means of a stock transfer form. In the other two cases, when they are purchased through a direct contract or through security settlement systems, no charge applies.
One of the Minister's own officials made it clear in one of the documents that were obtained through freedom of information where the official stated that if there is a transfer of the beneficial ownership of the share from one person to another in exchange of valuable consideration, there is clearly a conveyance or transfer on sale of the shares and, therefore, a charge of stamp duty of 1%. However, we know that is not being applied. It is not being applied in the Finance Bill.
It has become popular for companies to use this mechanism to drive up their share price. It also has the benefit of enriching corporate executives and, indeed, shareholders. It is suggested that Irish publicly-listed companies are on course to spend more than €1.9 billion buying back their own shares this year. The companies involved include retail banks and large developers.
However, share buybacks, as I said, can come at the expense of the company and, indeed, the broader economy. When one is spending money on the share buyback to benefit the share price, corporate executives and shareholders, it is money that is not spent on, for example, reducing prices to consumers, increasing employees' wages or, indeed, investing in the company in the future. That is the reason, as I stated previously, that the Biden Administration is looking at introducing excise tax to share buybacks.
In practice, few, and only small, private companies perform share buybacks through a stock transfer form. I believe the gap should be closed. The Minister stated previously to me in reply to a parliamentary question that the cost to the Exchequer of this is between €5 million and €20 million in each calendar year based on the prior year's transaction. Revenue is not able to gather comprehensive data on share buybacks that occur that are not subject to stamp duty as there is no obligation to report this information. If they are not subject to stamp duty, they do not need to report it. Obviously, there is a wide variation in the estimated annual yield forgone. That is because the share buyback programmes are implemented on a regular basis and usually by a limited number of companies, some of which are quite large.
I believe that, moving forward, share buybacks require further and greater regulation. It is appropriate that we deal with this and that is what the amendment is about. For example, as I said, there is no requirement on a company to report information on share buybacks. In my view, companies should be required to do so, and that would allow for a greater analysis of share buybacks. It is one change that could be made to see what is happening out there, in terms of how many shares and the cost, and the tax forgone, as a result of share buybacks that do not fall under the stamp duty charge of 1%.
A sale of shares is normally chargeable to stamp duty at a rate of 1%, as Deputy Doherty concluded, and is payable by the purchaser. I am advised by Revenue that where a company purchases its own shares, the stamp duty treatment depends on the form in which the shares are held and the method by which the purchases are effected.
For shares held in paper form, the shares may be bought back in two ways. The first is by means of a standard stock transfer form. The second is where the shareholder and the company enter into a contract or share purchase agreement for the sale of the shares, following which the shareholder hands over the share certificates to the company.
Where a company purchases its own shares by means of a stock transfer form, a stamp duty charge arises. Where a company enters into a contract or share purchase agreement, Revenue accepts that there is no stamp duty chargeable on the transaction by virtue of section 31(1)(b) of the Stamp Duties Consolidation Act 1999. This section provides for stamp duty to be charged in respect of any contract or agreement for the sale of any estate or interest in any property as if it were an actual conveyance on sale of the estate, interest or property.
However, it specifically excludes from its scope the sale of certain property, including shares. Accordingly, where a company purchases its own shares by means of a contract or agreement, no charge to stamp duty arises.
For shares held in uncertificated, or dematerialised, form, the shares may be bought back via a securities settlement system. Euroclear operates the securities settlement system for trading in Irish shares. Where a company purchases its own shares via a securities settlement system, it has been a long-standing Revenue practice to confirm that stamp duty is not chargeable.
In advance of budget 2023, officials in my Department carried out a preliminary examination of issues relating to the stamp duty treatment of share buybacks, as was flagged in the tax strategy group papers. On the conclusion of that preliminary examination, departmental officials recommended to me that no changes should be introduced in the Finance Bill 2022 and that the Department should carry out a more in-depth analysis of this issue in the year ahead. In this context, I can confirm for the Deputy that the matter of the stamp duty treatment of share buybacks will be considered in greater detail in 2023.
On reporting of information in relation to share buyback, companies are required to report to the Central Bank on share buyback activities under Article 5 of the market abuse regulation. However, the Central Bank looks at these reports on a case-by-case basis and does not keep a database from which this information can be extracted.
It is good to hear that the Department or Revenue officials, I am not sure which, will look at this in greater detail and make recommendations to a future Finance Minister. Given there is no reporting requirement, other than to the Central Bank, which is of no benefit to us while we are trying to grapple with this, it would have been opportune to have a reporting requirement in this year's Finance Bill that could feed into the assessment and review by the Minister's officials. That said, I think I have made my point both at this committee and in the Chamber and previously on this issue. I think the gap needs to be closed.
I think this seems straightforward enough but I seek clarification. This allows for a person to elect which parent they choose to benefit from capital acquisitions tax, CAT, whether it be their birth parents or their social parents but it does not allow for a change in that election at any time or to benefit from both. That is my understanding. Is that correct?
I will read out the note on this while I ponder the answer to the question. The Birth Information and Tracing Act 2022, which was signed into law in June, amended the Succession Act 1965 to make provision for persons who have been the subject of incorrect birth registrations.
The amendments provide that a person affected by an incorrect birth registration, who is referred to in the legislation as an “affected person”, will, in addition to his or her existing right of succession in relation to his or her birth parents, have succession rights in relation to his or her “social” parents, that is, the people he or she grew up understanding to be his or her parents.
That means that while you cannot change who your birth parents are, you can make a decision to select "social parents" and they will benefit from the terms of the Succession Act.
Does the individual benefit from both? He or she has the succession right as his or her birth parent. That exists in law already. Therefore he or she is granted that right in order that he or she can select to also benefit his or her social parents.
I want to make sure that I get the terminology right out of deference to the sensitivity of this matter. If a person has his or her birth parents and he or she also makes a decision on granting rights to the social parent, the maximum value of the rights has to be €335,000. The value is not given to both parents.
I thank the Minister for that clarification. How would that then play out to the children of those individuals because we would now be into a different category? Does the same apply to the children? That would be the gift from a birth grandparent and a gift from what would be a social grandparent, if you want to call them that.
The amendment to the Act provides that the relationships between a person affected by an illegal birth registration and his or her parents and the relationship between this person and his or her parents will be deduced "in accordance with section 4B(1) of the Succession Act" and all other relationships will be determined accordingly. When these provisions are applied, the social parents of an affected person will be the grandparents of the affected person's child.
For clarification, this is only in relation to where there was an illegal or incorrect registration. All of the stuff that Deputy Doherty has been asking about is already the case for biological and social parents. That is correct, is it not? It is already the case and all those things already apply in the case of adoptees. There is a threshold exemption up to €365,000 combined.
I move amendment No. 65:
In page 137, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following new section: “Implementation of Council Directive (EU) 2021/514 of 22 March 2021 amending Directive 2011/16/EU on administrative cooperation in the field of taxation
73.(1) Part 33 of the Principal Act is amended—(a) in section 817RA(1), by the substitution of the following definition for the definition of “Directive”:(2) Part 38 of the Principal Act is amended—“ ‘Directive’ means Council Directive 2011/16/EU of 15 February 2011 on administrative cooperation in the field of taxation and repealing Directive 77/799/EEC, as amended by Council Directive 2014/107/EU of 9 December 2014, Council Directive (EU) 2015/2376 of 8 December 2015, Council Directive (EU) 2016/881 of 25 May 2016, Council Directive (EU) 2016/2258 of 6 December 2016, Council Directive (EU) 2018/822 of 25 May 2018, Council Directive (EU) 2020/876 of 24 June 2020 and Council Directive (EU) 2021/514 of 22 March 2021;”,(b) in section 817REA—
and(i) in subsection (3), by the insertion of “, 32a” after “31”, in both places where it occurs,
(ii) in subsection (4)(a), by the substitution of “, the Central Register of 30 [SECTION 64] Beneficial Ownership of Trusts and the Central Mechanism of Ownership of Bank and Payment Accounts and Safe-Deposit Boxes, and”, for “and the Central Register of Beneficial Ownership of Trusts, and”, and
(iii) in subsection (8), by the substitution of “, the Registrar of Beneficial Ownership of Trusts or, in the case of the Central Mechanism of Ownership of Bank and Payment Accounts and Safe-Deposit Boxes, the Central Bank of Ireland, and” for “or the Registrar of Beneficial Ownership of Trusts, and”.(a) in section 891GA(2), by the substitution of the following definition for the definition of “Directive”:(3) Subsections (1)and (2)shall come into operation on 1 January 2023.”.“ ‘Directive’ means Council Directive 2011/16/EU of 15 February 2011 on administrative cooperation in the field of taxation and repealing Directive 77/799/EEC, as amended by Council Directive 2014/107/EU of 9 December 2014, Council Directive (EU) 2015/2376 of 8 December 2015, Council Directive (EU) 2016/881 of 25 May 2016, Council Directive (EU) 2016/2258 of 6 December 2016, Council Directive (EU) 2018/822 of 25 May 2018, Council Directive (EU) 2020/876 of 24 June 2020 and Council Directive (EU) 2021/514 of 22 March 2021;”,(b) by the insertion of the following section after section 891J (inserted by section 72):
and“Implementation of Council Directive (EU) 2021/514 of 22 March 2021 amending Directive 2011/16/EU on administrative cooperation in the field of taxation in relation to presence requests
891K.(1) For the purpose of this section—‘administrative enquiry’ means any control, check or other action carried out by an authorised officer by virtue of Regulation 14 of the Regulations of 2012;(2) For the purposes of the performance of the functions conferred by virtue of this section on a foreign tax official, the Revenue Commissioners may issue an authorisation in writing (in this section referred to as a ‘written authorisation’) to such foreign tax official which shall contain—
‘authorised officer’ means a person appointed as an authorised officer under Regulation 12 of the Regulations of 2012;
‘books, records or other documents’ has the same meaning as in section 900(1);
‘competent authority’ means the authority designated as such by a Member State for the purposes of the Directive and, in relation to the State, means the Revenue Commissioners;
‘Directive’ means Council Directive 2011/16/EU of 15 February 2011 as amended by Council Directive 2014/107/EU of 9 December 2014, Council Directive (EU) 2015/2376 of 8 December 2015, Council Directive (EU) 2016/881 of 25 May 2016, Council Directive (EU) 2016/2258 of 6 December 2016, Council Directive (EU) 2018/822 of 31 [SECTION 64] 25 May 2018, Council Directive (EU) 2020/876 of 24 June 2020 and Council Directive (EU) 2021/514 of 22 March 2021;
‘foreign tax official’ means an official who is—(a) authorised by the requesting authority pursuant to Article 11.1 of the Directive to act in the capacity of a competent authority on behalf of the Member State concerned, or‘nominated officer’ means a foreign tax official to whom a written authorisation has been given to perform the functions conferred by virtue of this section;
(b) authorised by the requesting authority under the Directive to assist or represent the official referred to in paragraph (a) in the performance of his or her functions;
‘requested authority’ means the Revenue Commissioners;
‘Regulations of 2012’ means the European Union (Administrative Cooperation in the Field of Taxation) Regulations 2012 (S.I. No. 549 of 2012);
‘written authorisation’ has the meaning given to it by subsection (2).(a) the name of the foreign tax official and a statement that he or she is a nominated officer,(3) Subject to subsections (4) and (5), a foreign tax official may, by agreement between the requested authority and the requesting authority and in accordance with the arrangements laid down by the requested authority, with a view to exchanging information for the purposes of the Directive—
(b) a photograph and signature of that official,
(c) particulars of that official’s authorisation under this section,
(d) the duration of the written authorisation,
(e) the name of the person who is the subject of the administrative enquiry concerned,
(f) a hologram showing the logo of the Office of the Revenue Commissioners, and
(g) the facsimile signature of a Revenue Commissioner.(a) be present in the offices where the requested authority performs its functions,(4) A foreign tax official may only be present or participate in administrative enquiries, pursuant to subsection (3), where such foreign tax official is a nominated officer.
(b) be present during administrative enquiries carried out by the requested authority, and
(c) participate, by electronic means where appropriate, in the administrative enquiries carried out by the requested authority.
(5) In respect of a nominated officer being present or participating in administrative enquiries pursuant to subsection (3), that presence or participation in such enquiries means—(a) reviewing books, records or other documents to which the competent authority has access for the purposes of the enquiry concerned, and(6) Nothing in this section shall be construed as permitting a nominated officer to carry out any enquiries other than when participating in administrative enquiries commenced and carried out by the competent authority.
(b) requesting, from any person present during the course of the enquiry concerned, reasonable assistance, including providing information and explanations required by the nominated officer, where such assistance, information and explanations would be available to the competent authority for the purposes of the enquiry concerned,
to the extent that—(i) such presence or participation by the nominated officer relates solely to the requested information, and
(ii) any information sought by the nominated officer relates solely to the requested information.
(7) A nominated officer performing the functions conferred on him or her by virtue of this section shall, on request, produce—(a) his or her written authorisation, and(8) Where, in the performance of any functions under this section in relation to him or her, a nominated officer is requested to produce or show his or her authorisation for the purposes of this section, the production by the nominated officer of his or her written authorisation—
(b) his or her authorisation from the requesting authority stating his or her identity and official capacity.(a) shall be taken as evidence of authorisation under this section, and(9) A word or expression which is used in this section and which is also used in the Directive has, unless the context otherwise requires, the same meaning in this section as it has in the Directive.”.
(b) shall satisfy an obligation under this section which requires the nominated officer to produce such authorisation on request.
Section 73 transposes a number of aspects relating to the EU directive on administrative co-operation, commonly knows as DAC 7, in reference to it being the seventh iteration of the directive. In addition to the main features of DAC 7 that relate to digital platform operators, DAC 7 also introduced amendments to provide for increased sharing of information between EU member states to provide further clarity to existing provisions and their operation, and updated provisions with respect to data protection and the uses to which the exchanged information can be put.
The main features are access to the central mechanism of ownership of bank and payment accounts in safety deposit boxes to ensure that obliged entities under money laundering legislation are compliant with DAC and provisions to allow for the presence and participation of foreign tax officials in inquiries conducted by Revenue. Many of these provisions were already contained in a statutory instrument, but DAC 7 extended these to include electronic presence and participation. These provisions will now be contained in the Taxes Consolidation Act and include powers to allow for presence and participation during these inquiries.
These updates will increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the exchange of information between member states to provide valuable information that helps protect Ireland's tax base and ensure that DAC 7 is transposed in line with the 31 December 2022 deadline, with a final transposition relating to joint audits being adopted next year.
I am going to bring forward a technical amendment to section 71 on Report Stage to indicate that a commencement provision will no longer be required. The removal of that commencement date will enable the provisions of this section to commence on the date the Finance Bill is enacted.
Will the Minister elaborate somewhat on exactly what change is proposed with this section? I understand it relates to double taxation agreements and assessments on taxpayers in situations where, I presume, double taxation agreements are relevant or apply, and where claims are being made for loss relief, group relief or similar reliefs. Will the Minister explain, in layman's terms, what exactly we are doing here?
I will begin by explaining to the Deputy what a mutual agreement procedure is because it is relevant to explaining the role of the Revenue officer referenced in this section. A mutual agreement procedure, MAP, is a dispute resolution mechanism that allows the competent authorities or countries concerned, in our case, Revenue, and its equivalent in other jurisdictions, to resolve international tax disputes. Such disputes are related to double taxation and taxation that is not in accordance with a double taxation treaty.
Section 959AA(2A), which was introduced in the Finance Act 2018, allowed a Revenue officer to make or amend an assessment, at any time, to give effect to a MAP reached between Revenue and another competent authority, and to make any additional tax due or refund of tax due payable or repayable. For example, a claim for group relief, loss relief or similar relief, must be made by a taxpayer within two years from the end of the accounting period to which the claim relates. A transfer pricing audit and the subsequent MAP case can take a number of years to conclude resulting in the expiration of the domestic time limits for claiming these reliefs.
As noted, the Taxes Consolidation Act allows a Revenue officer to make or amend an assessment to give effect to a MAP. This provision specifically states that this will be the case, notwithstanding the four-year time limit on the making of assessments or repayments. However, the section does not specifically provide that, on foot of a MAP settlement, a Revenue officer is to allow claims for a group relief, loss relief, or other similar reliefs that are made outside the time limits that would otherwise apply to the claiming of these reliefs. This section of the Bill amends the Taxes Consolidation Act to specifically give the Revenue officer the power to make or amend an assessment to give effect to a MAP, notwithstanding any time limits that may be in place for taxpayers for making claims for loss relief, group relief or a similar relief. This is just about ensuring that the Revenue officer has the power to make decisions regardless of time that has passed since the MAP was conducted.
Did the Minister say the reason reliefs might be delayed is because, for example, there might be some examination of transfer pricing? Is that right? Once the examination is completed, it might delay the relief being provided to somebody because the claim was being looked at in the context of transfer pricing. Is that it?
I will table an amendment on Report Stage in respect of mortgage interest relief, which obviously applies here.
Landlords are able to reclaim 100% mortgage interest relief but residents are not. Section 81 relates to rents payable to non-residents. What has changed from the point of view of rents paid to non-resident landlords?
I will refer to the two changes included in the section. Section 81 amends the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 to oblige a person making payments to the non-resident landlord to give certain information, as required by Revenue, concerning the landlord and the rental income on which tax is being withheld. The second part of the amendment relates to collection agents, that is, resident persons acting on behalf of the non-Irish resident persons who are chargeable and assessable for the income of the non-Irish resident person. The amendment also relieves collection agents of the obligation of being chargeable and assessable for the income of a non-resident landlord if the collection agent deducts withholding tax from rental payments, remits that tax to Revenue and gives Revenue certain information related to the payments. Those are the changes proposed.
I am advised by Revenue that the amount of rental income on residential and commercial properties, as declared on Form 11 tax returns by non-resident tax persons, is as follows. For the most recent year for which I have available information, the number of commercial properties was 3,570 and the number of residential properties was 40,270. The commercial rental income was €65 million and the residential rental income was €328 million.
There is €328 million in rental income. Is there a breakdown of how the tax is being applied? In what proportion of the 40,000 units is the tenant deducting the 20%? I presume that number is very low but I do not know. I have never seen the figures. Is there a breakdown showing that proportion?
I am informed that the information is available on the statistics on income tax and duties and income tax distribution section of the Revenue website. Even though I am informed it is available, I do not have the information. I will get it for the Deputy. My apologies. The answer I have just given the Deputy refers to income tax liability. I ask him to put his question again, if he does not mind. I misunderstood it.
There are 40,270 residential homes - houses or apartments - where the landlord is non-resident. Tax is applied to those tenancies in two ways, of which one is through a collection agent and the other through the tenant deducting 20% and paying directly to Revenue. Do we have any sense of how that is happening? Are there figures on the split or proportions?
The other piece of information may be available in a document but I have not seen it. What has been the trend with regard to non-residential landlords? We know there are 40,000 units at present but what is the trend? Are institutional investors captured under the heading of non-residential landlords?
We know where the tax is paid. It is paid when it is returned to the investor. I have trends for both broken down in tabular form. It looks as though, from a commercial property point of view, there has been a decline in the number of commercial properties in which non-residential landlords who are not tax resident have a share. The figure has gone from 5,070 in 2016 to 3,570 in 2019. The trend with regard to residential properties has been uneven. In 2016, the figure was 44,620 and it now stands at 40,270. The trend has gone up and down with regard to residential properties. I will give the Deputy the information.
This adds to the list of territories with which we have double taxation agreements Guernsey and the Isle of Man, both of which have something of a reputation as tax havens. What safeguards are in place to prevent agreements such as these with places that have reputations as tax havens being exploited for tax avoidance by corporations?
I will explain what we are doing here. This is the final ratification procedure for amending protocols. The amending protocols seek to make the existing double taxation agreements we have with Guernsey and the Isle of Man and consistent with the relevant OECD base erosion and profit shifting, BEPS, provisions. We are putting in place the best practice to deal with some of the tax behaviour that we have acknowledged needs to change. We are bringing that best practice and those standards into protocols that already exist. This should be a deterrent or at least allow us to reduce some of the behaviours we have said are not acceptable.
I move amendment No. 66:
In page 151, between lines 1 and 2, to insert the following:
“Trained farmer qualifications
84.(1) The Principal Act is amended—(a) by the insertion of the following section after section 654:(2) The Capital Acquisitions Tax Consolidation Act 2003 is amended, in section 89(1), in the definition of “farmer”, by the substitution of “Schedule 2 or 2A to the Stamp Duties Consolidation Act 1999 or a trained farmer qualification (within the meaning given by section 654A of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997)” for “Schedule 2, 2A or 2B to the Stamp Duties Consolidation Act 1999”.“Trained farmer qualifications(b) in section 667B—654A.(1) In this section—
‘relevant provisions’ means—(a) sections 667B and 667C,(2) For the purposes of the relevant provisions, a reference in those provisions to a ‘trained farmer qualification’ means—
(b) section 89 of the Capital Acquisitions Tax Consolidation Act 2003,
(c) sections 81AA and 81D of, and Schedule 1 to, the Stamp Duties Consolidation Act 1999;
‘specified list’ has the meaning given to it by subsection (3);
‘Table’ has the meaning given to it by subsection (2);
‘Teagasc’ means Teagasc – the Agriculture and Food Development
‘trained farmer qualification’ has the meaning given to it by subsection (2).(a) a qualification set out in the Table to this section (in this section referred to as the ‘Table’), or(3) For the purposes of this section, Teagasc shall—
(b) any other qualification that Teagasc certifies—(i) as corresponding to a qualification set out in the Table, and
(ii) as being deemed by the Qualifications and Quality Assurance Authority of Ireland to be at least at a level equivalent to that of the qualification set out in the Table.(a) establish and maintain a list of trained farmer qualifications (in this section referred to as the ‘specified list’),(4) This subsection shall apply in relation to a trained farmer qualification certified under paragraph (b) of subsection (2) which ceases to satisfy the requirements set out in subparagraphs (i) and (ii) of that paragraph.
(b) publish the specified list on a website maintained by or on behalf of Teagasc and by such other means as Teagasc considers appropriate,
(c) amend the specified list as necessary and appropriate to ensure it is up to date by—(i) adding thereto any other qualification certified under subsection (2)(b), and(d) publish the specified list as amended under paragraph (c) on a website maintained by or on behalf of Teagasc and by such other means as Teagasc considers appropriate.
(ii) where subsection (4) applies, deleting therefrom,
andTABLE1. Qualifications awarded by the Qualifications and Quality Assurance Authority of Ireland:(a) Level 6 Advanced Certificate in Farming;2. Other qualifications:
(b) Level 6 Advanced Certificate in Agriculture;
(c) Level 6 Advanced Certificate in Dairy Herd Management;
(d) Level 6 Advanced Certificate in Drystock Management;
(e) Level 6 Advanced Certificate in Agricultural Mechanisation;
(f) Level 6 Advanced Certificate in Farm Management;
(g) Level 6 Advanced Certificate in Machinery and Crop Management;
(h) Level 6 Advanced Certificate in Horticulture;
(i) Level 6 Advanced Certificate in Forestry;
(j) Level 6 Advanced Certificate in Stud Management;
(k) Level 6 Advanced Certificate in Horsemanship;
(l) Level 6 Specific Purpose Certificate in Farm Administration;
(m) Higher Certificate in Agriculture
(n) Bachelor of Science in Agriculture;
(o) Higher Certificate in Agricultural Science;
(p) Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Science;
(q) Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Land Management, Agriculture;
(r) Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Land Management, Horticulture;
(s) Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Land Management, Forestry;
(t) Higher Certificate in Engineering in Agricultural Mechanisation;
(u) Bachelor of Science in Rural Enterprise and Agri-Business;
(v) Bachelor of Business in Rural Enterprise and Agri-Business;
(w) Bachelor of Science in Agriculture and Environmental Management;
(x) Bachelor of Science in Horticulture;
(y) Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Horticultural Management;
(z) Bachelor of Science in Forestry;
(aa) Higher Certificate in Business in Equine Studies;
(ab) Bachelor of Science in Equine Studies;
(ac) Bachelor of Business in Equine Studies;
(ad) Higher Certificate in Science Applied Agriculture;
(ae) Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Sustainable Agriculture;
(af) Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Agriculture.(a) Bachelor of Agricultural Science - Animal Crop Production awarded by University College Dublin;
(b) Bachelor of Agricultural Science - Agri-Environmental Science awarded by University College Dublin;
(c) Bachelor of Agricultural Science - Animal Science awarded by University College Dublin;
(d) Bachelor of Agricultural Science - Animal Science Equine awarded by University College Dublin;
(e) Bachelor of Agricultural Science - Dairy Business awarded by University College Dublin;
(f) Bachelor of Agricultural Science - Food and Agribusiness Management awarded by University College Dublin;
(g) Bachelor of Agricultural Science - Forestry awarded by University College Dublin;
(h) Bachelor of Agricultural Science - Horticulture, Landscape and Sportsturf Management awarded by University College Dublin;
(i) Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine awarded by University College Dublin;
(j) Bachelor of Science in Equine Science awarded by the University of Limerick;
(k) Diploma in Equine Science awarded by the University of Limerick;
(l) Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Agriculture awarded by the Dundalk Institute of Technology.
(m) Bachelor of Agricultural Science - Agricultural Systems Technology awarded by University College Dublin;
(n) Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Science awarded by Munster Technological University;
(o) Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Farm Management and Agribusiness awarded by South East Technological University;
(p) Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Sustainable Farm Management and Agribusiness awarded by South East Technological University;
(q) Bachelor of Science in Agriculture awarded by Atlantic Technological University;
(r) Higher Certificate in Science in Agriculture awarded by Atlantic Technological University;
(s) Quality and Qualifications Ireland Level 6 Specific Purpose Certificate in Farming;
(t) Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Agricultural Science awarded by South East Technological University.”,(i) by the substitution of the following subsection for subsection (2):(c) in section 667C—“(2) The conditions required by this subsection are that the individual referred to in the definition of ‘qualifying farmer’ in subsection (1) is the holder of a trained farmer qualification (within the meaning given by section 654A).”,(ii) by the deletion of subsection (4), and
(iii) by the deletion of the Table to that section,
and(i) in subsection (1A)(b)(v)(II), by the substitution of the following subclause for subclause (A):(ii) in subsection (4A)(a), by the deletion of subparagraph (vi).“(A) is the holder of a trained farmer qualification (within the meaning given by section 654A), and”,and
(3) The Stamp Duties Consolidation Act 1999 is amended— (a) in section 81AA—(b) in section 81D(4)(a), by the substitution of “a qualification set out in Schedule 2 or 2A to the Act or a trained farmer qualification (within the meaning given by section 654A of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997)” for “a qualification set out in Schedule 2, 2A or 2B to the Act”,(i) in subsection (1)(I) by the substitution of “In this section” for “In this section and Schedule 2B”, and(ii) in subsection (2), by the substitution of “a trained farmer qualification (within the meaning given by section 654A of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997)” for “a Schedule 2B qualification”,
(II) by the deletion of the definition of “Schedule 2B qualification”,
(iii) by the deletion of subsection (6),
(iv) in subsection (11), by the substitution of the following paragraph for
paragraph (a):“(a) For the purposes of this subsection, a person ‘achieves the standard’ at any time where at that time the person satisfies the conditions set out in subsection (2), (3), (4) or (5) and whether a person has or has not achieved the standard shall be construed accordingly.”,(v) in subsection (14)(b), by the substitution of “to be the holder of a qualification corresponding to that set out in subparagraph (b) of paragraph 1 of the Table to section 654A of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997” for “to be the holder of a qualification corresponding to that set out in subparagraph (b) of paragraph 1 of Schedule 2B”, and
(vi) in subsection (15), by the substitution of “to be the holder of a qualification corresponding to that set out in subparagraph (b) of paragraph 1 of the Table to section 654A of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997” for “to be the holder of a qualification corresponding to that set out in subparagraph (b) of paragraph 1 of Schedule 2B”,
(c) in Schedule 1, under the heading “CONVEYANCE or TRANSFER on sale of any property other than stocks or marketable securities or a policy of insurance or a policy of life insurance”—(i) in paragraph (5)(aa)(ii)(I), by the substitution of “Schedule 2 or 2A to the Act or a trained farmer qualification (within the meaning given by section 654A of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997)” for “Schedule 2, 2A or 2B to the Act”,(d) by the deletion of Schedule 2B. (4) Subsections (1), (2)and (3)shall come into operation on 1 January 2023.”.
(ii) in paragraph (5)(ab)(i), by the substitution of “Schedule 2 or 2A to the Act or a trained farmer qualification (within the meaning given by section 654A of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997)” for “Schedule 2, 2A or 2B to the Act”,
Amendment No. 68 is in my name and I understand I have to vacate the Chair to speak to an amendment. Deputy Boyd Barrett's amendments are included in this, as is Deputy Doherty's amendment. I propose that Deputy Doherty take the Chair/
I move amendment No. 68:
In page 153, line 17, after "commences," to insert the following: "except where properties have been deemed not liable for local property tax due to being unsuitable for use as a dwelling. In all cases where properties are residential properties and deemed unsuitable for use as a dwelling, such properties shall be registered as derelict by the local authority and shall be subject to the Derelict Sites Act 1990, including the derelict sites levy,".
This is in reference to the vacant homes tax. I am glad a vacant homes tax has been introduced as a measure to activate the vacant properties we know exist around the country. There has been a lot of speculation on the figure. The true figure lies between the 60,000 odd, as referred to in the local property tax returns, and 166,000. As I understand it, if a dwelling is uninhabitable, it does not qualify for the local property tax. Where somebody submits that a vacant dwelling is uninhabitable so as not to be liable to the local property tax or vacant property tax, such properties should be automatically registered on the derelict sites register. That is the substance of my amendment.
The Deputy is correct that if a property is uninhabitable, it is not subject to the tax. The property has to be habitable because I am levying the tax via an additional charge through the local property tax regime, which assumes it is habitable. For a property to be placed on the derelict sites register, having been deemed derelict, I understand the criteria are that it must be in a dangerous or ruinous condition, it must be in a neglected or unsightly condition, and there must be litter, waste or debris present on the site. If a property meets these criteria, it is regarded as derelict and therefore not subject to the tax.
Regarding properties that would meet the criteria for being deemed derelict, by being damaged, uninhabitable and unsightly, is the Minister saying it is not within his remit under the tax Bill to request that such properties be put on the derelict sites register? Could he advise whether it is a matter for the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to address?
It is a matter for the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage. That Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and I have consulted on this matter. He has initiated a review of the operation of derelict sites legislation and I understand he will have it completed by the end of the year. It is apparent to me, having done the work on the vacant property tax, that the best way to deal with the issue unused properties, be they homes or derelict, is through the introduction of a vacant property tax and the strengthening of the operation of the derelict sites legislation.
A person has to make a return to the Revenue Commissioners indicating a property he or she owns is uninhabitable and therefore not subject to the vacant property tax. Is there a mechanism whereby the Revenue Commissioners can inform the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage that such a dwelling has been declared uninhabitable, after which the property would be automatically put on the derelict sites register, possibly through the local authorities?
I do not think that chain of contact would feature. Since the vacant property tax is based on self-assessment, I believe those putting forward their homes for it will contact only the Revenue Commissioners. The latter would have no need or reason to contact the local authority.
It is more fundamental than that; it is the not role of the Revenue Commissioners. They do not play a role regarding derelict properties. For that reason, they would not be aware of them. They would not have a need to be notified regarding the properties.
Nobody would be aware of the status of a property of the kind in question because the owner would not have declared its liability for the vacant homes tax to the Revenue Commissioners. Since it would be unknown to the Revenue Commissioners, it could not pass on the information to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, or the information would not be available for the latter to seek. There is a gap concerning property that should be captured under either a derelict sites levy or vacant property tax. We need to strengthen the arrangements. I understand the aim of the tax is not to generate revenue, although the revenue can be used for housing, but to activate as many properties as possible, whether they are vacant, derelict, semi-derelict or uninhabitable.
I acknowledge that, for properties that are regarded as derelict because they are not subject to the vacant property tax, the question stands as to what can be done to activate them for residential use. However, that is now a matter that the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage is aiming to bring to a conclusion. The reason the Revenue Commissioners are not notified is that they do not have a standing in regard to the matter. I would assume, however, based on my constituency experience, that the Revenue Commissioners are not informed of properties that are derelict but that Dublin City Council either is or should be. It is clear to me from watching how the derelict sites legislation is being operated that it is working in some cases, but we need to find ways to improve how it is operating. This is the work the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage is doing.
Could I add something? Since the tax is self-assessed, and given the Revenue Commissioners' function regarding not only the local property tax but also its predecessor, they will have limited information on houses people claim are uninhabitable, having regard to the household charge. I do not know whether they retain such information or, indeed, information on houses that were subject to the levy, that were subject to a charge that arose in a subsequent year and that became uninhabitable.
So we will be all clear on what “habitable” is, “habitable” is a property that is fit for dwelling. I am not trying to be at all smart with the Deputy for a moment, but “uninhabitable” then, as Revenue would define it, is a house that is not fit for dwelling. My officials will tell me as the debate goes on if there is further rigor that lies behind that. However, given that it is a self-assessed tax with a very high level of compliance behind us, it appears to be an approach that is working well.
I wish to say one more thing on it. There are clearly properties that are not fit for dwelling but may also not be derelict. This is clearly an issue that needs further work. As they are not fit for dwelling, they are not a home, and because they are not a home, they do not come under the vacant property tax. Therefore, one of the issues we need to consider is the definition of “dereliction” and whether it needs to be reviewed. I think it probably does, but the place for that will be the Derelict Sites Act rather than the Finance Bill. I think I understand the Deputy is raising and he will correct me if I am wrong. It is the properties that fall in between both definitions.
Exactly. This appears to create properties that might fall into it. For example, if the front is missing from a house, would it be considered uninhabitable and therefore not liable under the local property tax and therefore not liable under the vacant home tax? We do not have a definition of what “uninhabitable” is. How do we prevent houses being made uninhabitable in order to avoid the tax?
-----knowledge of it. If I look at the operation of the local property tax at the moment, there is not much evidence of properties being made uninhabitable to avoid the tax. I hope I am not being naïve in assuming the same practice will continue in relation to the vacant property tax. I would argue, but it will be a matter for Revenue, that if a front door is removed from a house, it is still habitable. Clearly, if we see evidence of activity taking place that undermines compliance with this tax, which we have not seen when it comes to the local property tax, that would be something that would need to be reviewed in the future.
I move amendment No. 71:
In page 153, line 39, after “Act).” to insert the following:“653AQ.Within 3 months of the passing of this Act, the Minister shall lay a report before the Dáil into the implementation of the Vacant Homes Tax.”.
My other amendments were ruled out of order, presumably because they involved a charge on the Exchequer. This amendment is looking for a report on the implementation of the vacant homes tax. It allows me to ask certain questions about how this will operate and whether it will be adequate. It might bring vacant homes back into use, which is what the purpose of it obviously is and should be. To get a portion of the 160,000 houses identified in the census back into use could be useful to help to house people and deal with the dire housing crisis we are facing.
On the last conversation and Deputy Matthews’s questions, I never accused the Minister of being naïve. I mentioned a multi-unit apartment complex across the road from my office where at least 15 but up to 17 units have been sitting empty now for about two and a half years. The vulture fund that bought it is busy trying to drive the tenants out and has succeeded in driving most of them out, which is why those properties are empty. One thing that is going on there is that throughout all that period, there were very slow refurbishment works going on. These refurbishment works have been going on for as long as those places have been empty - since they drove the tenants out with threats of evictions and so on that just eventually led the tenants to give up and go. Some of the tenants stayed and resisted. Hopefully, their resistance will bear fruit in that the long campaign has meant the local authority and an approved housing body are now trying to purchase the block. I hope that goes through and we end this awful situation and the scandal of those empty apartments. Meanwhile, those places have been vacant. Everybody who is left living in that block knows that they have been perfectly well refurbished for quite some time. However, they maintain to pretend that there was work still being done to them.
To be honest, I do not know whether they are being charged anything or whether they are identified as vacant properties or would be. However, the point is there is an exemption in the vacant homes tax if substantial works are being done, is there not? Therefore, I would be worried that that exemption can be exploited and one would get precisely that. There is this case, but I can see this situation being repeated in Tathony House, where there is a massive eviction threat, and in other places where they want to get the tenants out. In this case, I think they just wanted to make them empty long enough that then the rent pressure zone rules that limited rent increases would expire and no longer apply and they could then jack up the rent or just increase the value of the property by getting vacant possession, but kind of justifying all that on the grounds that they are doing substantial refurbishments to the place. I would like the Minister to address that concern. I could see that being done and in the case I am referring to it looks as if something like that was going on. It would not take long for the unscrupulous to figure out whether there are things they could do to benefit from exemptions or loopholes in the tax and manage to evade it.
In addition, three times the property tax is just not enough to put any serious pressure on those sorts of people who do that kind of thing. Does the Minister know what I mean? I refer to the kind of people who are happy to sit on a property and watch its value appreciate and are ruthless enough to throw people out and intimidate and bully them out of a place because they want to maximise the value of their investment. In fact, I went with the poor tenants who were being threatened with eviction to the RTB. I remember so well the high-powered barrister representing that particular vulture fund who said that this is not pleasant - it is ugly - but their client has to maximise the value of their investment.
It was as cold and as ruthless as that. They knew what they were doing was not nice but they had to maximise the value of their client's investment. There are people like that out there. People as calculating, profit-hungry and ruthless as that will do the calculations. They will work out that, even if they have to pay three times the property tax, they would make a hell of a lot more by letting a place sit empty and therefore maximise the value. We need a much more punitive vacant homes tax than the Minister is suggesting to make it really work, so it becomes painful for people to sit on empty property in that way. We would like to see the tax kick in if a place is empty for six months or more. The Minister is suggesting a lot longer. If I understand him correctly, somewhere could potentially be empty for a year before the tax would kick in. I ask the Minister to clarify that. That is my understanding.
I will deal first with the refurbishment issue Deputy Boyd Barrett has referred to. It is an issue I gave considerable thought to in designing the Bill. For that reason, a clear definition of "substantial repairs" is contained within the new vacant property tax. As the Deputy said, if substantial repairs or a substantial refurbishment is carried out in a chargeable period, an exemption from the vacant homes tax, VHT, might apply. However, for this exemption to apply, the works must have been carried out without undue delay, must have taken a period of not less than six months and one of the following two conditions must be satisfied: a registered professional must certify that the property could not have been occupied while the works were ongoing as this would have posed an actual risk to the health and safety of any occupant, and the planning permission required must have been obtained prior to the work starting; or the cost of the works exceeds one fifth of the market value of the property before works commenced. We have a definition in place of what constitutes substantial repairs or substantial refurbishment. Anything less than that would mean the property was still subject to the vacant property tax. The duration under which the charge would apply would be for properties that are vacant for less than 30 days in a 12-month period. If a property is vacant for less than that, the tax has to be paid.
Regarding the point Deputy made about the level of the local property tax, LPT, I accept that this matter will be open to debate. The Deputy is making the case that it is not enough and that it could be more. I have made the case back that if a property has a normal local property charge on it of €225, the new charge on top of that would be €675. I would certainly judge that to be a significant increase in the bill somebody will have to pay. If a property is valued at €500,000, the charge under the vacant home tax would be €1,485. We will have to assess over time the operation of the tax to see if it is leading to the behavioural change we want, which is a reduction in the number of homes that are vacant.
I will consider what the Minister said. I welcome the fact he is considering those concerns and has considered them in the drafting of the legislation. Regarding the rate, is it not fairly self-evident that properties are appreciating to a degree that is multiples of what the Minister is talking about? If average property taxes are a few hundred euro and the tax is three times that, say €1,000 or €1,500, based on the appreciation of property prices at the moment, it would still be very profitable for someone to pay that because by the end of the year the property they have been sitting on will be worth 10% more than at the beginning of the year. That might be €30,000, €40,000 of additional value in that property. That €1,000 or €1,500 is nothing compared with the benefit they may perceive to have gained from to sitting on it empty.
In theory, what the Deputy is saying is correct. The gain somebody might get from the increased value of the home, from a capital point of view, might be bigger than the vacant property tax they will pay. For a levy or tax like this to be equivalent to the capital gain a property may experience, there would have to be a huge increase in the vacant homes tax rate. The Deputy may indeed want that. We will have to consider this as the tax is implemented. However, there may be less wealthy individuals who have chosen to keep their home vacant for prolonged periods of time for whom these charges are going to be very considerable. If we were to deliver an increase in the scale of the vacant property tax that would need to be equivalent to the gain in capital value of some properties, other taxpayers may argue that the tax they are facing is disproportionate, that it is a significant increase in their tax liability and that they are not in a position to afford it. There is a balance we are trying to get right here. There may be people out there who have modest means, who are on a middle income, and who have a home vacant for a prolonged period of time, whatever their reason may be. They do not qualify for an exemption. I would wish that home had a tenant, a citizen or a family in it but those people may deem they are not going to do that and pay the tax. They could be of modest income and modest means. If we were to design a tax that was equivalent to the capital gain in a property, those people would end up facing a huge increase in their tax liability, which could have equity risks as well. What we are trying to do is pitch the tax at a level that will be a significant increase in the tax liability people face. It is a big increase but I feel it is one that is also fair and justified. As I said to the Deputy from the beginning, this is the kind of issue we have to keep under review to see if it is leading to the behavioural change we want.
Amendment No. 73 is about the retention of records and the fine that would accrue to somebody who failed to comply with the rules on the retention of records with regard to declaring that a house is not vacant because it has been occupied for more than 30 days. I think that is what is set out in the legislation. This amendment is similar in nature to the one that Deputy Boyd Barrett spoke on earlier about the overall rate of the tax. I tabled an amendment which was ruled out of order because it would place a charge on the State. I take the Minister's point that we are introducing a new tax and its objective is to activate vacant properties and bring them into use. He suggested that if the rate were too high, it may have implications for people who cannot afford to pay the tax as well as other implications. We are trying to activate them to move on that house. I often hear the argument that a building is derelict or vacant because the person cannot afford to do something with it. On the other hand, there are often people who have no financial challenges whatsoever, and if they are doing nothing with the building, it is an indication they have too much wealth since they are prepared to let it sit there and rot rather than sell it, refurbish it or move it on.
I was glad to hear the Minister say the property tax will be reviewed. We can look at the rate. The model which was introduced in Vancouver many years ago was quite successful. It brought slightly more than a quarter of the vacant properties in Vancouver back into use, which is what we are trying to do here. That was introduced at a rate of about 1.5%. That is on a sliding scale which increases with time. That is regarded internationally as a successful vacant property tax measure. My suggestion was to pitch this at about ten times the local property tax because it equates to approximately 1%, depending on what band the property falls into. Ten times the local property tax would be approximately 1% of the value of the home. That is where we should have gone. I take the Minister's point that he will review it but I would like it to be higher to stimulate bringing more houses back into use.
Amendment No. 73 provides a fine of €3,000 for non-compliance or non-retention of records. I suggested that we increase the fine to €10,000. It has to be punitive. While I understand the vacant homes tax is set at a level which the Minister thinks is fair when trying to achieve its objective, I think withholding or not supplying correct information to Revenue that is required should incur a higher charge than €3,000.
Deputy Matthews made the bulk of the point. I was curious when he said there might be people on lower or middle incomes who had a vacant property who, for whatever reason, have decided to leave the property vacant. I am struggling to imagine a person on a low to middle income who can afford to leave a property vacant. I just cannot envisage many such cases. I am not saying the odd such case might not exist. One could qualify the tax with some provisions which would state that if there is a good or exceptional reason, it can be appealed if a rationale can be provided, such as a personal or family-related reason. I cannot really think of one. That does not seem a terribly credible argument for not addressing the far big danger that it will continue to be profitable, from a capital gains point of view, for people to sit on empty property. The level of the tax will be a fraction of the capital gains they are likely to achieve based on the recent appreciation in property values.
I have cited one example. I could cite more. It is a significant grievance of people in my area, as it is in many, to see places that could be used sitting empty year after year. Everybody knows the people who are sitting on those properties are wealthy. They are happy to sit on a vacant property because it is a valuable asset which is appreciating in value and nothing is being done about it. The penalty has to be made punitive. There is a much bigger danger if it is ineffective.
The Minister and I may differ on this point. I think the stakes are really high because the housing crisis is so bad. The Minister's caution and statement that we should be careful and review this as we go might be a reasonable position to take if we were not facing the current dire situation. When we are faced with the sort of human misery, suffering, hardship and trauma that so many families and children are now facing, there is no time to work out whether this will work. We have to make sure it works. We have to drive those vacant properties back into use as a matter of urgency. Whatever about debates on whether Housing for All is adequate, I think we all accept that we are a long way from where we need to be. We need to get to where we want to go with regard to addressing this housing crisis as quickly as possible.
I ask the Minister to seriously consider this. Deputy Matthews made the point himself so it is not just the lefties who are saying this.
I have a number of issues to raise on this group of amendments. Deputy Matthews talked about the rate it applies at. My amendment No. 79 will deal with this issue. The rate is currently 0.3% of the value of the house, which is well below what we see in other vacant property taxes. In the example Deputy Matthews gave, it was 1.5%, which then increases. There is an argument that vacant property taxes should exist to encourage properties to come into available stock and so on and that it is not just about a housing crisis. If we look at the environmental impact of building new homes as opposed to using vacant stock, then the answers are clear. In the mouth of a significant housing crisis, starting at a very low base is seriously questionable. Sinn Féin has argued, and I am sure Deputy Boyd Barrett and People Before Profit have argued, for years with regard to the vacant property tax. It is frustrating it has taken so long to convince the Government of the merits of something and the need to do something. We finally have it. This could have had an impact if the Government had listened a number of years ago and introduced this. It would have been hoped it would have resulted in the behavioural change that vacant property taxes are about.
Such a tax is not about collecting revenue; it is about trying to ensure that vacant properties come back into the housing stock and are either sold on to people who want them as homes or rented out to those who want to rent them for a short or long period.
I have a serious issue with the rate. In some cases, the rate of the vacant property tax will be €270. That will be fine for some people. They will just write the cheque. It is not a deterrent to company or an individual that does not want to bring a property back into use. Admittedly, that is the lowest point but part of the amendments I put forward is there should be a minimum rate. It makes sense for this because the LPT is based on the value of a person's house and so forth, but the vacant property tax is about getting properties back into use. The house is likely to be second-hand and therefore less valuable. It may also be in a particular area, or be smaller. A rate of €270 is far too low. It would be easy for the Minister to bring forward an amendment on Report Stage amendment to the effect that the formula for the LPT is A = B x C, or €500, and a person is liable for whichever sum is the greater. I am just using €500 as an example. We are bringing this in. I hope it will have the desired effect and that it will have a quick effect because that is what we want. However, we must acknowledge that in some places, in some parts and for certain properties, likely older ones, we are talking about a lower value and therefore it might be €90 x 3, giving €270. That is too low. I strongly urge the Minister to look at that.
The second part of our amendment is about what Deputy Boyd Barrett raised, namely, the gains here. Is it just increasing the value of the property? We are seeing that. People are saying they will just write the cheque and as prices go up they will make the cost of the tax back in a couple of years' time. That is also an issue. I hear what the Minister is saying about how if we deal with the gains the rate could be very high and if the Government was doing that it would capture everybody. I do not have that view, but there are other people who need access to finance to do the renovations to bring a property into a rental situation. The way to deal with that is this rate should increase every year. Ultimately, the Government does not want the money here. That is not the purpose. We want the stock to come into use, so if somebody is just cutting a cheque every year then this has failed dramatically. A sign of the failure of this section will be the Revenue benefiting in income terms. We hope that will happen in the first year but, equally, we hope the income decreases after that. The Minister should be increasing this. I am aware it can be reviewed next year and so on and so forth. I have no doubt that, as we have seen with many things, the rate will be increased. It makes sense the rate should increase. It does not need to do so dramatically but it should increase year on year. If somebody is in their third year of leaving one property or half a dozen properties vacant, then in no way should it be the same amount. It should be punitive. The rate should increase by a multiple of what the first year cost each year.
The third part of this is that dereliction, which is the elephant in the room, is excluded. I made the point earlier that Revenue will have some data on uninhabitable premises from administering the household charge and the LPT. The fact that the latter is self-assessed notwithstanding, people have made valid and genuine claims that a house is uninhabitable and it is not just a case of it not having electricity, a kitchen or a toilet. We may have situations where somebody had been paying the LPT for years and then they are struck by a situation where the house burns down or partially does, and becomes an uninhabitable house as a result. That information would be provided. That does not really get to the crux of the issue though, because a property being uninhabitable and a property being derelict are two separate things. The elephant in the room is the 160,000 vacant properties, many of which will probably be outside the scope of this because they will fall into the scenario where they are uninhabitable. and that is a problem. I hear what the Minister is saying. Again, it is late in the day. It is just so frustrating that we must wait another year for the Government to come up with a derelict sites levy. It has never worked. Some 19 local authorities did not collect a red cent through the levy. On average, 32% of the amount is being collected by local authorities. It is not working. As I have said, if this was a normal scenario we could say that is okay or that it might take a bit of time to work through but the Minister's party leader calls this an emergency, and rightly so. However, that means there needs to be an emergency response and this is not that. This section is easy as you go. It is not even going to apply until 1 January 2024, I believe.
Yes. I am deeply frustrated at the slow pace of that.
There are three things we need to do. The first is that there should be a minimum amount to recognise that in some cases the property's valuation will incur a low local property tax. Three times a low value can result in €270 and over the period between 2024 and 2027 the owner will pay less than €900. Imagine that scenario. It is not good enough. The second aspect is that the tax should be punitive and should increase year on year as somebody takes a conscious decision to leave the property vacant and just write the cheque. The third aspect is that dereliction needs to come into this. Dereliction is a serious issue. The rate is, as I have said, not as high as people suggest. The Minister talked about the definition of substantial refurbishment during the chargeable period. Will he also tell us about the definition of a property "being actively marketed" for sale or rent? What happens to the fellow who goes and puts his property for rent for €3,500 because that is the rent he wants, despite the market rent in the area being a fraction of that? This fellow has the property up on daft.ieand is willing to pay the fees. What is the procedure there? Again, what if a property is ostensibly being marketed for sale but is not really. The owner is refusing offers or the price may be such that it is not going to get significant offers. What are the powers of Revenue in that regard?
I thank the Deputies for their questions. I am struck by a contradiction I feel is there. On the one hand, both Sinn Féin and People Before Profit are against the local property tax, LPT, because they believe the level of the LPT is unaffordable for many people. Yet, when I bring forward a measure that triples a tax they feel is currently unaffordable, then it is not high enough. If their starting point is that the LPT is already a lot for people to pay and then we multiply the local property tax to make that the additional top charge for a home being vacant, then surely that is a credible change to make. I find it to be a contradiction where, on the one hand, they say the property tax is unaffordable and should be abolished, and then they say a measure that triples the local property tax is too low.
I accept it has taken time for me and my officials to design this tax and to be confident it can be implemented, but I do not want to bring in a tax that would go the way the derelict site levy has gone, with its non-implementation in different parts of our country. I want this to work. I want it to make a difference. I want there to be exemptions in place for vacancy reasons that we judge to be legitimate and acceptable. It did take some time to get that right and to bring this measure forward. We are in the grips of a terrible difficulty that is an emergency for families, for tenants, and for renters in relation to their housing needs. From an overall tax perspective, the measures we are now doing, such as the new zoned land tax combined with the vacant property tax, are really significant efforts by tax policy to play a role in changing the use of lands and homes.
The Deputies raised the issue as to whether this will have an effect. We are fortunate that, in having done the work through data collection and through the last local property tax return, we have some form of benchmark against which we can evaluate the impact of the performance of tax, which we will do. I have little doubt at all that when the tax is due to be paid, there will be some who complain and make the case they have legitimate reasons for the property being vacant, that this is not recognised by the exemptions in place, and that what we are asking them to pay is too much. I know this will be raised as an issue because it frequently is in the context of taxes that relate to property. I do not accept this is a case of business-as-you-go in relation to tax policy and the substantial difficulties we have with housing. Bringing forward this measure in the way we are, I believe it will make a difference. We will continually evaluate its performance to see if change is merited.
On the operation of the measure, it is correct to say that the payment in respect of the approaching chargeable period is 1 January 2024, but the first chargeable period for vacant home tax has already begun. It began on 1 November and will end on 31 October. This tax will be quickly rolled out once the Finance Bill is enacted. I have a different view from the members of the committee regarding the level of the tax. I accept that more work needs to be done on the dereliction aspect. Because local property tax, which is the basis for the introduction of vacant homes tax, is done on the basis of self-assessment, it is difficult to see how dereliction can be handled by anybody but the local authorities. The Minister, Deputy O'Brien, is doing work on this at the moment to understand how we can do more in the conversion of derelict properties into habitable homes.
Deputy Doherty asked what happens if a property is vacant because it is for sale. An exemption from the vacant homes tax will apply if a property is actively marketed for sale in a chargeable period and the following criteria will need to be met: the price for the property does not exceed the market value of the property, and there are no conditions attached to the sale designed to impede or disrupt the agreement of the sale. Those criteria are put in place to try to minimise attempted sale activity being used as a reason for this tax not to be levied to a vacant home.
Will the Minister clarify that he does not believe there needs to be a minimum amount of tax applied to a vacant property, as I put forward? I do not believe the Minister has addressed that issue. Does he believe that the minimum amount, which is €270, is sufficient?
Okay. When we are dealing with Estimates we always ask that not just the measures are looked at but also the outcomes of the measures. What measure of success will the Minister use? What proportion of vacant properties does the Minister wish to see reduced in year two year three, and year four to actually measure this is a successful taxation measure?
We have not yet set the reduction of vacancy over a multi-year period. The Department and I will turn our minds to this as we evaluate the performance of the tax. I will look at the reduction of vacancy we have seen with the implementation of the vacant property tax in other jurisdictions. I will see what reduction has happened there. We can compare that with the reduction in vacancy I believe the tax will deliver. There is another aspect we can look at. As the Deputy may be aware, there is a measure in place regarding the normal level of vacancy that should operate in a well-functioning and normally functioning housing market. We will look at whether our level of vacancy converges on that equilibrium level of vacancy within a housing market. We have not set those targets and we certainly have not yet set them over a multi-year period.
For a fella who has taken the guts of half a decade to bring forward a tax that will not apply for another year and a bit, the Minister has not even got a sense in his own head of what the objectives of this are with regard to any measurement. The argument was put forward that the Minister has done nothing about this for years - until the last year really - because he wants to get it right and all the rest, but the Minister does not have a measurement for what he actually wants to achieve. This is the problem here. The Minister is introducing a tax that, in my view, is not set at the right levels and does not increase year on year. Therefore, there is no way to measure the Government's success on this. What are the targets?
I have just outlined what they are and how it can be done. Have we set a target for it yet? No, we have not, but we will be able to do that work shortly after the Finance Bill. We will then review progress on those targets as part of the normal evaluation we do on tax policy.
Given that I have just said that I would want the level of vacancy to decrease by more than 10%, if it has not the scheme should be reviewed at that point. Have I set targets for what the reductions should be over a multi-year period? No, not yet.
I have some time left to complete the Finance Bill. Given that its implementation will take place across next year, I will do so if I am still the Minister for Finance and if I am not, I hope the next person will.
There is no reason for the Minister not to have done so before. He has been dealing with this matter for years and we have been calling for him to introduce this measure for years. He has introduced a taxation measure and neither he nor his Department has set targets for want they want to achieve with this measure. This is not a tax-raising measure but one that seeks change. What excuse does the Minister have for not deciding on any measure in relation to this for the past five years?
Earlier, the Deputy made the point that his amendments are focused on tax. When I bring forward measures in a Finance Bill and the budget, they focus on revenue and how much revenue we expect them to raise. We have brought forward a revenue target for the vacant property tax, albeit one set a low level. Revenue yield is the standard measurement for whether a tax has delivered against a target. It is, therefore, acceptable to say that we have a target for revenue, which we do, and now that we are on the verge of gaining agreement to implement the tax, my Department, in conjunction with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, will set a target regarding a reduction in vacancy. I think it is perfectly acceptable to make that argument.
I would say it is absolutely not acceptable. In the teeth of a housing crisis that reply just shows that the Minister has got it all wrong. The reference period has already started but before the legislation has passed, the Minister has come up with a figure for how must tax the measure will raise but he has no idea what outcomes he wants, which is why we in Sinn Féin and others on the left have been begging him and the Government to introduce a vacant property tax. If the Minister and the Government had listened to us back in the day and applied such a tax, maybe we would not have as many people experiencing a housing crisis today. Some of the homes that are vacant in this city and elsewhere, including in my home county, would have come back into the housing stock if the tax had been applied at a proper rate.
I completely disagree with the Deputy. When bringing forward a tax, the appropriate measure for the early phase of a tax is how much money it will raise and that is contained in the budget day documentation. Shortly after the Finance Bill is implemented, we will be able to work out, with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, what is the appropriate measure for a reduction in vacancy and we will do that.
If I have the opportunity to do it, I will certainly do so. The tax only became chargeable from 1 November and only a number of weeks have elapsed since the budget was done. The opportunity is there. We will certainly do it but I imagine it will require some consultation and work with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage. I and my Department will do that. I reiterate that the appropriate first target for a tax is how much revenue it will yield and that is contained in the budget day documentation. The work on what kind of measurement there should be for a reduction in vacancy will be done.
Let me make this point because I do not think the penny has dropped with the Minister during his period as Minister for Finance. We have been in an emergency for years and, as a result, we expect emergency measures. Today, on 16 November, the Minister has said he will be the Minister for Finance for another month and a day but he might not get around to setting targets or having the consultation he described with his colleagues in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage because there are other pressing things. Housing is the most pressing issue. This issue did not fall from the sky tonight. The Minister has been dealing with it for ages. We submitted freedom of information requests and we have seen, for example, how the Minister and his officials encouraged the change in the language contained in Housing for All, that he sat on the fence and was lukewarm on this issue in the first instance. In my view, the Minister has stalled this measure for very many years, has not listened to the Opposition and now, at a time of almighty crisis, a measure is being introduced that will only kick in, in terms of people cutting cheques, on 1 January 2024. Other than the amount of money he wants to raise, the Minister does not have a target in his head or written down as to what he wants to achieve with this measure in terms of vacancy and tackling the housing crisis. He has told this committee that despite the fact that he will be the Minister for Finance for the next month, he is unlikely to do this work within the next month. That is not acceptable behaviour to me and it is even less acceptable to the victims of the housing crisis that the Minister, his party and his Governments have facilitated and created.
For those people who have been affected by the huge difficulties we have with the supply of housing, and with its affordability for the rent that they are paying, I would point to all the other measures in the budget that will make a difference. I would point to the fact that during my time as Minister for Finance, our investment in housing has multiplied and is up to €4 billion for this year. I would point to the fact that we have other significant measures in this Finance Bill and last year's Bill on the use and taxation of land. These are really attempts and efforts to change the taxation regime with regard to the use of property.
I think it is very acceptable to say that we have a revenue target for a tax that we are now implementing. It is equally acceptable to say that we will spend a bit of time developing, with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, what the targets are in relation to vacancy.
As the Minister for Finance, I am responsible for tax yield. I have been clear from day one what we expect this measure to raise. I do not want a tax that Revenue is implementing and that I am responsible for to encounter the difficulties the derelict site levy has encountered. That is why we have designed this measure carefully and it will work. The Deputy and I have a differing view on the matter. As I said, what we will do in the time ahead, in the teeth of the difficulty that we are in, is review the impact the measure has and if further change is needed, I am sure it will be made.
I do not know how the Minister can say this measure will work because the only measurement he has set is the amount of tax it will bring in. He and his Cabinet colleagues have no measurement or any other way to measure whether it will work or none that he is willing to offer or write down on a piece of paper during his time as Minister for Finance. I understand why that is the case, and it is because the impact will not be at the level we need at this point in time. On the amount of tax this will raise, the Minister has done that piece of work. How much money does he expect to raise from this in 2024? To how many properties does he expect that to relate?
We estimate that around 15% of the total properties that are vacant will be liable for this tax. We estimate on the basis of the survey that we have done that the total number of vacant properties is 57,000.
Of those properties, we estimate that 15% will be liable to the tax. That is approximately 6,000 to 7,000 properties.
We have different numbers regarding all of this. The Central Statistics Office, CSO, has talked about 166,000 vacant properties as per the preliminary results of its census. The Minister expects to get 6,000 of the 166,000 properties the CSO identified. Is that right?
We expect that up to 6,000 or 7,000 will be paying this. As the Deputy knows, there is a difference between census information and information on vacancy from local property tax, LPT, returns. The reason for that is that the CSO used different methodologies and a different definition of vacancy when conducting its census.
Is there any concern that when the Minister for Finance asked people to tell him how many vacant properties they had so that he could charge them tax, they might have under-represented their properties in their self-assessed forms?
If the tax is not paid, it is because of the different criteria we have laid out. We believe there are acceptable and legitimate reasons for a property to lie vacant. The exemptions apply where the owner-occupier of a property has recently died, where the property is actively being marketed for sale or rent, where the occupation or sale of a property is restricted by court order, where the property has undergone structural works, where the property is vacant as a result of the owner's long-term illness and where the property is owned by a North-South implementation body. There are a number of exemptions that will lead to the majority of homes identified in our LPT survey not being liable to this tax. However, we believe those reasons for vacancy are understandable.
Yes, it did. We asked in our survey. We should bear in mind that we are talking about a local property tax that already has a very high rate of compliance. There is a 93% compliance rate from a return point of view and a 97% compliance rate in respect of payment. I understand the point the Deputy is making that there could be reasons people might declare their properties not subject to the vacant property tax but, given how successful Revenue has been in making the LPT, which is also based on self-assessment, work, I believe there will be effective compliance with this new tax. We asked why given properties were vacant. The reasons were in line with the criteria I mentioned to the Deputy a moment ago. Some 23% of properties were vacant because they were undergoing refurbishment, 18% because they were up for sale and 20% because they were a holiday home. Legal disputes, probate applications and long-term care formed other reasons for vacancy.
Most people with holiday homes may come to it for a week or two weeks in the summer. They might also spend a weekend in it here and there. Even four weeks will not satisfy this provision so such properties will come under this tax.
With regard to holiday homes, the vacant homes tax aims to address vacancy by imposing a tax on habitable residential properties that are not in use. For the purposes of the tax, it is irrelevant whether a property is considered to be a holiday home. If a holiday home is in use as a dwelling for a period of 30 days over the course of a year, there will be no liability to the vacant homes tax, VHT. Where a holiday home does not meet this 30-day occupancy threshold, a charge of the tax will arise.
That is my point. I am saying that the tax will arise in respect of a large number of holiday homes because they are not used as frequently as that. Some people are down in their holiday homes every weekend but others will not be used as much.
It is certainly possible but we are not designing this tax with a view to holiday homes. We are designing it with regard to a certain level of use. If the level of use is more than 30 days, there will be no liability to the tax in respect of a holiday home. However, as I have said, if it is used for fewer than 30 days, there will be a liability.
I will ask the Minister about some of the detail of the section. Deputy Matthews talked about uninhabitable properties earlier. There are different pieces of legislation regarding the household charge going back to 2011 and the local property tax. However, the definition here is "in use as a dwelling" as opposed to "habitable". The dwelling must be in use for 30 days. I am curious about the language used in this section.
The phrase "in use as a dwelling" is not defined in the legislation so I will address its ordinary meaning. It will simply mean that, on a given day, with each day comprising the 24-hour period ending at midnight, a person uses the property as his or her home or main residence. Such use does not need to be on a permanent basis. This would mean that a person attends to matters such as meal preparation, personal hygiene, relaxing and sleeping for the period in this property and not in another property. That is what the phrase "in use as a dwelling" is taken to mean.
I have a couple of other questions. What penalty is applied to people who fail to declare that their property is vacant and therefore do not pay what they are liable to on 1 January 2024? Does that penalty increase each year? If we take somebody whose liability was €500 who did not self-declare in the first year, that person would have an accumulated liability of €1,000 in the second year. What is the penalty if such a person only declares in the second or third year? What additional charge applies?
In addition to interest charged at 8% if a chargeable person pays VHT late and a late filing surcharge of either 5% or 10%, depending on how late the filing is, the legislation also provides for the application of penalties for failures to file returns or for filing incorrect returns. A penalty of €3,000 or €5,000 would be levied, depending on the circumstances of the case. Where a relevant person fails to provide the information in the form and manner requested and within the time limit specified by Revenue, a daily penalty of €100 will be applied, subject to a maximum penalty of €3,000.
Can the Minister compare the 8% interest charge in respect of somebody who does not declare and pay his or her liability in respect of a vacant house to the non-principal private residence charge, which was on a monthly basis, or the household charge? I think the household charge was set at 8% but I know that when it went over to Revenue it increased.
How does the late payment fee compare with the household charge? The late payment fee in respect of the household charge is quite significant, given the length of time that people should have paid it. The late payment fee in respect of the non-principal private residence charge was, I think, charged on the basis of a month.
We will get an answer to that question for the Deputy. I do not think we have it at the moment.
I have just been asked to clarify an answer I gave the Deputy a moment ago. The €100 I referred to refers to a relevant person, and the definition of a relevant person is set out in the local property tax legislation. I just wanted to make that clear.
As for the Deputy's information on the 8% charge and how it compares with the other taxes, we will get the information on that for him.
Maybe I will phrase my question like this. A number of charges are already applied but these are applied to people who live in their homes. They are actually their homes, as opposed to vacant houses they are just leaving empty. In drafting this legislation, and given the Minister's consideration of this matter and the lengthy time that has passed since he has been thinking about it, did he look at the late payment fees that apply in existing legislation to people who reside in their own homes in respect of the household charge, for example? How did the Minister come up with the 8%?
The point I am trying to get at is that the Minister is targeting 6,000 homes out of 57,000 homes, according to the self-assessed survey the Department did. That is 6,000 homes out of the 160,000 lying vacant, according to the CSO. If there is no punitive penalty for not declaring, that is an issue. There is a question in respect of this legislation: is the 8% an appropriate penalty for not making this declaration?
I am happy to come back to the Deputy with a comparison of that charge. I will get that information for him. I go back, however, to the answer I gave a few moments ago. Looking at the total number of homes that were surveyed in the self-assessed vacant property tax project we did, there are many legitimate reasons a home could be vacant, reasons for which I believe it is appropriate not to tax such homes. I laid out what those reasons were in my earlier answer to the Deputy. He will agree that 6,000 homes is an awful lot of homes. If we were successful over time in getting more and more of them available and getting families and renters into them, that would show the value of this tax.
It would be helpful if the Minister could provide us with information on somebody with a household charge of €500 or whatever - it was not €500 but €200 at the time - and the penalties that would apply in such a case, and somebody with a charge of €200 for vacancy and how the penalties will apply there.
May I ask the Minister about the reach in respect of individuals outside of the State? We had a discussion earlier about non-resident landlords, which have over 40,000 properties for rent in the State. It is good they are in the rental market, are active and so on in that there are tenancies there and they are not vacant homes. What is the reach of this measure in respect of people who have vacant properties but who reside outside the State?
Revenue is able to do that with the application of the local property tax. If any agency is capable of ensuring that somebody living in Boston who is liable to pay this tax does so, it is Revenue. I am absolutely confident in its ability to have the reach needed to collect tax from people who should pay this tax but who might not live in Ireland.
I am coming to an end on this. The Minister will be familiar with the sight, as he walks through the streets of Dublin, of commercial properties with dwellings, or what once were dwellings, above them lying vacant. In some cases they are a scar on the landscape. Some of them are derelict - not painted, windows boarded up, widows smashed and so on. In a scenario in which there is a commercial operation at ground level of such a building and what were residential properties above, and if the residential portion is not ratable by the local authority because it is not being used for business purposes - that is, if by definition it is unratable - will it be deemed a vacant property?
I expect that in those circumstances it would not be liable for vacant property tax, VPT because those kinds of properties - in my experience in Dublin Central, for example - tend not to have their own individual entrance or there tends to be difficulties with their compliance with fire safety legislation which mean they are not habitable. That is why the initiative the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, announced only this morning to make the Croí Cónaithe fund available within some towns and cities could, I think, be very helpful. I heard the Minister refer this morning specifically to spaces above commercial properties that could be converted for residential use. I imagine that that money and that fund would be used to make properties compliant with fire safety legislation or to put in separate entrances residents could use. However, in situations in which spaces such as those to which Deputy Doherty referred do not comply with fire safety legislation or do not have their own entrance, they are not habitable and would not be subject to this tax.
Finally on this, we know that the date of liability is 1 January 2024. When can we expect the first data from the Minister's Department or from Revenue on the number of individuals who have self-assessed for this?
I ask the Deputy to bear with me. I am just getting the dates again. Payment in respect of the chargeable period is due on 1 January 2024. The self-assessment return is due on 7 November, but the chargeable period has already begun. The chargeable period, as the Deputy will know, is separate from when the payment is due.
I am sorry; the Deputy asked me a final question on that that I missed.
The payment is due on 1 January. When will we have our first piece of data on the number of people who have registered or declared that they are liable for this tax? When are we likely to see some information in that regard?
We will have it by 7 November 2023 at the latest because that is when owners will be required to provide self-assessment to Revenue. Given it is possible some self-assessment is likely to happen and returns may come in October 2023, it may be some time after that before we get the full picture. I imagine the window from November 2023 to early 2024 will be the period in which the full performance of the tax will become clear in terms of registration.
From that point, we can look at reports from Revenue. As for the details that will be made available to the Houses of the Oireachtas, will we get not the just numbers and values on the tax that has been collected, but a geographic breakdown as we have had with other taxes? Will that be by county boundaries, or will it include urban and rural settings, for example, where there is more of an acute issue in terms of housing, such as the Dundalk as opposed to Louth village scenario?
Local property tax information is available on a county basis. I will check with my colleagues to see if it is available on a more granular level. I am informed it should be possible, on an anonymised basis, to get the information on a more granular level than just by county. I have little doubt, given international experience indicates this tends to be concentrated in particular cities, Revenue will make every effort to provide that information to the Oireachtas.
The amount of resources we make available to the Revenue Commissioners increases nearly every year. I am always delighted to provide this increase in resources and to meet as much of Revenues budgetary needs as I can that it asks of the Department of Finance. Revenue will have the resources that are needed to implement this. I do not have a breakdown of the additional resources needed to implement this tax.
That matter is normally dealt with by the Secretary General of my Department, in dealing with the chairman of the board of the Revenue Commissioners. However, I engage regularly with the chairman and I have little doubt, if he were short of resources to do all this, he would tell me directly. I expect, and am confident, that we have met the resourcing needs for this tax, and any other taxes, we are asking Revenue to collect.
Can the Minister provide a note to the committee before Report Stage on that? I am conscious it is not just this tax, which given the fact the Department is only looking for 6,000, it is probably not as resource intense. However, there is work to be done to facilitate the collection of and follow-up on this tax due to the self-declared nature of the tax. In addition, the renters' tax credit requires significant work within a short window. I ask the Minister to inform us if the personnel request from Revenue this year has been fulfilled by the Department in full and if not, to provide details.
I move amendment No. 72:
In page 153, after line 39, to insert the following: “653AQ.Within 3 months of the passing of this Act, the Minister shall lay a report before the Dáil, on the amount of revenue that would be raised by introducing an empty home (excluding vacant homes that are vacant with a good reason) levy of €1,000 per month.”.
I move amendment No. 73:
In page 159, line 33, to delete “€3,000” and substitute “€10,000 plus the amount of tax due in respect of the vacant homes tax”.
I have spoken once regarding this amendment but I wish to come back in on it as I do not think the Minister responded to my question on the amendment.
We are introducing the principle of a tax on vacant property and it is a very important principle. I welcome that and thank the Minister for introducing it. Deputy Doherty said it was something Sinn Féin had talked about for many years. Indeed, in the Green Party, we have talked about this for many years. To introduce such measures, parties have to be willing to go into and form governments in difficult times and make unpopular and difficult decisions to be able to introduce good decisions like the vacant homes tax.
I agree with the Minister that it is not the only measure we have introduced. The zoned land tax introduced in last year's Finance Act is another one of those incentive land activation measures. We have tried to try to address this, especially in the town and urban and town centres, to stimulate development and growth of local economies and residential use. We also introduced the planning exemptions, that are now in place, for bringing buildings back into residential use. The Croí Cónaithe fund was introduced and provides up to €50,000 to a person to bring a derelict or vacant property back into residential use. In addition, the significant funding available through the retrofitting grant could offer another €25,000, bringing the amount to €75,000. If a person purchases a building at a good price, that is significant funding to get.
Our Town Centre First and Our Rural Future policies also support what we are trying to do. There has also been funding providing over the years through the urban regeneration and development fund, URDF, and the rural regeneration and development fund, RRDF, which has brought much benefit to town centres across the country, especially in the urban public realm and civic areas.
I disagree with the Minister on the level of this tax, but that is something about which we are allowed to disagree. I am glad that will be constantly reviewed, because I will constantly push for the amount to be increased.
On dereliction, I hear what people are saying about the derelict sites levy and that it seems to be a failure. When local authority representatives came before the committee, they said the levy accrued is associated with the site. When the site is sold, the full amount of the levy is attached to the site. That is one way of looking at it. Another way of looking at it is that if the site is sitting there for 20 years and no one has to pay any money for it, the tax is not doing its job.
The introduction of taxation on dereliction would be a much stronger measure. I agree with the Minister. The powers of the Revenue Commissioner are powers that people pay attention to. If an envelope is dropped through a letter box and the envelope has Revenue's harp on it, people pay a lot more attention to that than if it contained their local authority's coat of arms. We could do further work on introducing a dereliction tax based on the derelict sites levy. The local authorities could compile the register and Revenue could following up on the dereliction tax. On amendment No. 73, I am of the view that €3,000 is not enough of a disincentive. The amount should be €10,000.
On the exemptions in Chapter 4, I ask the Minister to consider a 12-month period. The Bill refers to a property being "actively marketed for rent" and "actively marketed for sale". We should apply a time limit to that. In our current situation, where there is massive demand for housing, I do not see a scenario in which a house that is genuinely actively marketed and has a reasonable price tag on it, would be on the market for more than six months. I know conveyancing can take time, but it should at least go to "Sale agreed" by that stage. There is a massive demand for housing and if a property is priced correctly, it will sell. The same also applies to rental properties. If I put up a "For sale" sign outside a house and include my email address or phone number, does that qualify as actively marketed?
I hear the case that is being put forward by Deputy Matthews that the penalty we have been discussing should be increased to €10,000. I will make the same general point back to the Deputy: just as he might wish that the rate should be higher, I believe the tripling of it, as we have at the moment, is capable of making a difference. The same difference exists in respect of the charge of €3,000. A penalty of €3,000 is something that will make homeowners think twice. The Deputy believes it should be increased all the way up to €10,000 for somebody who is failing to keep any returns at all in respect of a property. A fine of €10,000 for such behaviour feels to me like a very significant charge. As with all of this, we will keep it under review and see if these kinds of penalties are having the effect we want them to have. My assessment at the moment is that €3,000, in itself, is something that is capable of leading to the behavioural change we want.
The Deputy spoke about the exemption when a property is being sold. This exemption reflects the fact that properties may be temporarily vacant while on the market for sale. Applying a tax in these situations is not aligned with the aim of the vacant home tax. The amendment would limit to just six months the period of time that a property could be on the market for sale without becoming liable for the vacant homes tax. This would mean that a property owner who puts a property on the market for two months would retain the exemption but someone who had been trying to do so for longer than six months would not. This risks the creation of an incentive that the provisions of section 84 are designed to avoid, which would be to create inequity for those genuinely trying to sell a property who might not yet have found a buyer for genuine reasons. For those reasons, the amendment the Deputy is proposing, which I understand in any event has been disallowed, would have the desired effect.
I take the Minister’s point on amendment No. 73. We differ on the rate of the vacant homes tax because I believe it should be higher. I believe that failing to comply with the requirements of Revenue should incur a frightening charge. The sum of €10,000 is what I propose. The Minister says that somebody should think twice. I do not want them to think about it at all. I want them to comply with the requirements of this. We are trying here to stimulate housing, land and sites. I take the Minister’s point on amendment No. 73. I withdraw it and will perhaps seek to reintroduce it on Report Stage.
I did not refer to amendments that have been ruled out of order. I would like to speak about the exemptions in the context of section 84, in general.
We have partially discussed the exemptions. I ask the Minister to consider how we avoid an issue arising when somebody claims to be actively marketing a house. I have asked for a definition. If one puts up a “For sale” sign - not an estate agent’s sign but one’s own - one can sell one's house without having to go to an estate agent. If I were to put up a "For sale" sign with my email address on it, thereby classifying it as being actively marketed for sale; would that satisfy the definition in the legislation?
If one is actively marketing the property, it might not be seen as that. One may just not be available to show the property. I agree with the vacant homes tax and am supportive of this measure, but I want to ensure we catch and activate as many vacant buildings as we possibly can. That is why I draw attention to this. I ask the Minister to consider if there is a way of addressing what I see as a weakness in the exemptions by putting a time limit on it. In other words, we must ensure that it cannot be for sale for a long period of time, or up for rent forever, as a means of avoiding the paying of this tax.
I move amendment No. 76:
In page 171, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following: “Amendment of section 604B of Principal Act (relief for farm restructuring)
85.(1) Section 604B of the Principal Act is amended, in subsection (1)(a), in the definition of “relevant period”, by the substitution of “30 June 2023” for “31 December 2022”.
(2) Subsection (1) shall come into operation on such day as the Minister for Finance may appoint by order.”.
Amendment No. 76 was already discussed with amendment No. 45. I suggest that we go through the amendments before we consider the section as a whole. In the case of the amendment before the committee, it is a question of whether a new section be inserted in the Bill.
I move amendment No. 77:
In page 171, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following: “Reports
85.Within 3 months of the passing of this Act, the Minister shall lay a report before the Dáil, on the amount of revenue that would be raised by introducing a new tax on land banks of underdeveloped land at €10,000 per hectare.”.
I move amendment No. 78:
In page 171, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following: “Reports
85. Within 3 months of the passing of this Act, the Minister shall lay a report before the Dáil, on the amount of revenue that would be raised if he were to abolish the current Local Property Tax and impose a new Non Principal Private Residence Tax on an incremental basis as follows:
(a) a second home tax of €1000;
(b) a 3 to 5 homes tax of €1500 per home;
(c) a 6 to 10 home tax of €2000 per home;
(d) an over 10 homes tax of €2500 per home.”.
I move amendment No. 79:
In page 171, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following: “Report on the Vacant Homes Tax
85.The Minister shall, within six months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before Dáil Éireann a report on the vacant homes tax, including an assessment of options to include derelict properties within its scope, to apply a minimum amount of tax greater than three times the lowest rate of Local Property Tax and to increase the amount of vacant homes tax to be charged in respect of a residential property in proportion to the length of time during which that property remains vacant.”.
We will adjourn once we finish Committee Stage of the Finance Bill 2022. We are resuming on section 85. Amendment No. 80 is in Deputy Matthews's name and has already been discussed with amendment No. 77. Deputy Matthews is not here but I believe he said he may return to the amendment on Report Stage.
My amendment is to insert a new section 87, but it actually relates to section 86, so I will deal with both together. The amendment relates to the impact on construction of the defective concrete block levy, in particular the impact it would have on construction costs, on the viability and the affordability of housing products and on the cost of remediation for home owners affected by defective concrete products.
We have discussed this at the different stages over the three days of the Finance Bill 2022 in terms of the impact that the no-touch, loose touch and light touch regulations during the Celtic tiger period had on thousands of homes and, more importantly, in terms of the effect that it has had on the thousands of individuals right across the counties of Donegal, Mayo, Limerick, Sligo and so many other counties that have now been affected by it. It is difficult to put into words the impact this is having on so many people's lives. For some people, it is not yet having a huge impact, but they are saying they know it is in front of them. They see what colleagues or people they have now come to know are going through. Yet, they know the cracks will appear. They know that when the cracks appear in the wall, they will be more than just cracks on concrete or on blocks and that it will have a bigger impact.
I have had the pleasure, if I can use that word, to be invited into the homes of some of those who have been affected, as have many politicians from across the political divide. I genuinely believe this is one of these cases where it is nearly impossible to understand it until one is there oneself and is standing in a sitting room, in a bedroom of a child or in a house and seeing that what once was a living room is now a bedroom with a mattress on a floor and what once was a living room is now really a bedsit, because everything takes place in there because the kitchen is no longer functional, the bedroom is full of damp and mould and because much of the activity has to take place in the one room that may be left or that is not as impacted as the rest. I am extremely worried and I want to say - in fairness, the campaigners have said this - that I hope that this will not come to pass, but from looking at the state of some of those houses-----
Exactly. I understand from my colleagues there may be ten minutes left in that Bill so we may get caught again. I wish to finish the point I was making. From my experience and what I have seen, I hope that an accident does not come to pass but I fear it will. People should not be living in some of the homes in which they are living at present. Imagine standing in a kitchen with water ingress near the sockets, microwave and all the rest where there are live wires of 220 V. It is a danger. The buildings are condemned and yet families are still living in them. I know this is a wee bit off the subject. Others are concerned about high winds in winters in that chimneys might fall.
I am taking the opportunity to try to explain it to the Minister but I am probably not doing a very good job. Why are some families in Donegal in a situation and homes in which they should not be? I can only speak for the ones I have seen. They should not be in these homes. It is very challenging. I spoke to one person in a home of this nature whose application is stalled with the local authority. You can crumble the bricks in your fingers. It is unbelievable.
I say it in this context because we are dealing with the aftermath, a large remediation and a scheme that still has not been published. People feel let down because of this. Legislation was rushed through. The campaigners did not want the legislation to be rushed through. We were told it needed through before the summer because the scheme was coming out and there is still no scheme. People feel hurt and they are in a dangerous scenario. Please God, the worst will not come to pass. However, some of these buildings are structurally unsound, a fire hazard and a death trap and families are living in them as we speak. There is no avenue for them to deal with this because the scheme does not exist. The old scheme is stalled.
Ms Lisa Hone, chairperson of the Mica Action Group, appeared before the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach. She talked about the inaction of Government in this regard. The Minister talked about how the Government committed a certain amount of money, which is a large amount of money the State and taxpayers must spend to clean up the mess of what was really a Fianna Fáil era of no regulation. Many of those people are still in those houses, however. They are still in those scenarios. They still do not have scheme that works for them or where they can rebuild their homes and houses. What they have seen in this Finance Bill, however, is a measure that will now make it more costly for them to rebuild their homes.
The Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland told us what the costs are for a three-bedroom house. I know the Minister will dispute this cost, but we also dug deep into the Department's own costing for which inflation has not been taken into account. The Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland said it is approximately €1,200 of an additional cost. The mica victims talk about the injustice of this measure being brought forward that makes it harder for them to rebuild their homes. They know that under what is being proposed, many of them will not be able to rebuild their homes anyway because there is such a gap in terms of the support or grant aid that will be available and what they would have to pay themselves.
I made the point earlier that I believe the banking levy needs to be increased at least back to where it was prior to now. The Minister said there will be a review in that regard. That is the best way of actually funding this. This measure brings in €32 million. Indeed, bringing the banking levy back up to where it was would bring in double that. It will not pay for the scheme but it would be a contribution towards the overall cost.
There are obviously other issues, one of which, as we touched on so many times during the Finance Bill debate, is the cost of housing. We can see it in the Central Statistics Office, CSO, figures published today in terms of residential house prices going up and up. It was 10% in the last year and higher in certain areas. It is all going in the wrong direction. We heard from the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland that the tender price index is running at approximately 14% for inflation. We know that the prices of certain materials has increased. The price of concrete, for example, has risen by 37% in the last year. The trajectory of that will go up further because of the fuel-intensive nature of its production. It is expected that concrete will rise in price again possibly before the end of the year, as we heard from the Construction Industry Federation, and possibly again. It has already gone up by 37%, however. This levy is putting the price up further again, which will be passed on to individuals. The feeling is that this is not being applied to those who are culpable because it will be passed on to the consumer. There is an argument that any levy, no matter what, will be passed on to the consumer, although I would argue that a levy on profits is harder to pass on to the consumer compared with a levy on the product the consumer purchases.
We heard from Mr. Barra Roantree of the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, who spoke about the burden of the proposed levy on concrete blocks and similar products. I will quote from a newspaper article regarding his briefing, which states:
The burden was 'likely to fall on the residents of newly built homes rather than on industry' whose negligence led to the defects with mica, pyrite and other issues. He said the cost would ultimately fall on buyers of new homes or on tenants, if the homes were let out by landlords who had shouldered the cost in the price of the house. It is not clear why these people should fund mica redress. It is a big one-off cost. We have big one-off corporation tax revenues. They seem to match.
There is a lot of logic to that instead of asking those individuals or pushing the prices of housing up further. It is important that when we look at tax changes or revenue-raising measures, we should at all costs not undermine the delivery and affordability of housing. This is what this measure does. It is not just me saying this. The Construction Industry Federation is saying it. The Minister could argue that it would say that anyway, but the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, SCBI, said it as well and the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland is very clear in this regard.
There are significant concerns that increasing costs are threatening the viability of planned developments. I mentioned to the Minister previously that we are already seeing commencements going in the wrong direction with anything between a 15% and 20% reduction now compared with where they were in recent months. We know that high inflation is impacting negatively on construction input costs and, therefore, on every sector right across Ireland. I know this from my experience of talking to people and dealing with suppliers of kitchens or bathroom furnishings and so forth. They tell me that in terms of self-builds, the trend is to get the house closed up and then just leave it for a while because prices have gone out of control. We hear that the pipeline of activity in Dublin is not looking great. There is a bit of concern regarding what is happening. In all of this, we need to be driving down costs. That is the key issue.
The Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland relayed that "the National SCSI Tender Price Index is running at 14% inflation for commercial construction and the largest contributor to tender inflation over the past 12 months is material prices." It went on to state that "rising energy costs have had a significant impact on energy-intensive materials" such as metal, steel, aluminium, copper, cement, curtain walling and so on. As I said, we have seen concrete increase in price by 37% in the last year.
The Chairman might let me finish on this point. The Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland stated:
Contrary to the need to drive down construction costs, the concrete levy announced in Budget 2023 directly increases building costs. While we understand that Government intends to seek a contribution from relevant stakeholders to the cost of remediating defective homes, in a period of hyperinflation for the construction industry, the introduction of a levy on concrete [blocks and concrete pouring] will undoubtedly challenge the viability and affordability of ... new homes.
In my view, the way it is designed and the detail of it should not be included in the Finance Bill at this time for many of the reasons I outlined regarding how it is applied, who it is applied to, the point of hyperinflation, the point about viability of construction products, what we are seeing in terms of commencements and the massive disaster we have in terms of the housing crisis. I strongly believe this section should be deleted from the Bill.
As always when addressing this issue I want to begin by acknowledging the massive problems that have been caused to many homeowners the length and breadth of our country. While I have not had the opportunity to be in the homes of those who have been affected by mica, and who have seen their homes crumble in front of their eyes, I have met homeowners. I engaged with them in the run-up to other budgets and in the run-up to decisions being made regarding the mica scheme. I could see at first hand the great deep stress that so many faced as they saw their homes turn into crumbling building.
Deputy Doherty said he had an idea about what I was going to say when I spoke about the commitment the Government has made. I will certainly follow up where we are on making the detailed scheme available to those homeowners who have been affected by mica but I still have to make the point, notwithstanding him expecting me to make it, that at €2.7 billion this is one of the largest capital programmes in the country. It is comparable to the national broadband scheme. It is bigger than the capital programmes for many Departments. We are making this commitment because we know the State has a role to help in alleviating the harm that has been done to homeowners throughout the country due to practices and behaviours that are unacceptable.
The commitment of €2.7 billion is a massive commitment by the Exchequer. Deputy Doherty and I over the past two and a half days have exchanged words and made points to each other regarding the efforts that each of us makes to pay for either the expenditure programmes I am committed to or the new programmes he wants to initiates if his party is in government. Each of us makes points to each other about tens of millions of euros in order for the budget I do and the commitments he puts forward to add up and for each of us to have explanations regarding how we would pay for things in future. I struggle with an element of some of the debates that have taken place on mica, and this does not for a moment dilute the commitment I have to make a difference to the homeowners affected by the presence of mica in their homes. The Members of the Dáil, this committee and the Government spend a lot of time and energy debating with each other programmes that are worth tens of millions of euros and we have arguments and discussions with each other about how we will pay for them. This programme is worth billions. To indicate that the Government can make a commitment to this and there will not be trade-offs or consequences as a result is, frankly, dangerous.
I know what Deputy Doherty has said, which is that we should pay for this by extending the banking levy and by maintaining the banking levy at a higher rate and redesigning it to do this. The problem with this is that when we get to making this decision there will be lots of other cases that are also very worthy and they will want €80 million, €100 million or €130 million spent on them, whether it is putting more into housing, building more schools or investing more in many of the various issues we have spoken about while discussing the Finance Bill. By the time the decision gets to be made regarding whether or not the bank levy should be extended there will be multiple competing demands on how the money is spent. This is why it is essential, particularly if we are about to make other decisions regarding the commitment of other billions of euro to fix the mistakes that some made in the building of homes in the past and fix the harm done to homeowners, that we do not say we can make those commitments and that other things will not happen as a consequence. If we do, what will happen is this Government or the next Government will find itself in a position that many demands will be placed on it and it will not have the money to respond.
For these reasons I believe the levy I am bringing forward is justified. Does it have risks and trade-offs associated with it? It does. Could it affect the price of building new houses and apartments? Clearly that risk is there if all of the levy is passed on in increased construction costs. We have modelled these costs. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has released a paper on it. The costs it may well add, however, are a very small share of the overall costs involved in the construction of a new home. The committee is aware of what they are. They are 0.15% to 0.2% for an apartment and 0.2% and 0.45% for a typical semi-detached home. I know this is a potential additional cost of hundreds of euros or more than €1,000 for those involved in building the home and those who could be involved in purchasing the home.
Any measure I bring forward to pay for a commitment of billions of euros will have consequences and trade-offs associated with it. It is for this reason that I believe a measure such as this is needed. I will go back to the general point I opened with. I cannot indicate to the House or to the taxpayer that we can commit to €2.7 billion of spending over a number of years and not say that at some point there will have to be measures that will make a contribution to it and those measures will have consequences and trade-offs. This is an essential point to make when we debate billions of euros. It is why this levy is, I believe, merited overall and we need to do it.
I move amendment No. 84:
"In page 188, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following:
“Report on the impact of the Defective Concrete Products Levy on the cost, viability and affordability of construction and housing projects 87.The Minister shall, within six months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before Dáil Éireann a report on the Defective Concrete Products Levy and its impact on construction costs, the viability and affordability of housing projects, and the cost of remediation for homeowners affected by defective concrete products.”."
On section 86, l made the point that I would address my comments in respect of this amendment when discussing the section. On that basis, I will not press the amendment. I had pressed my opposition to the section. I will withdraw the amendment and reserve the right to resubmit it on Report Stage.
Before I go into the amendments, I want to signal to the committee that I will be bringing forward a number of amendments on Report Stage. I have indicated some of them along the way but to give a complete record, I will bring forward an amendment in regard to section 3, which deals with incorrect birth registrations; an amendment with regard to help to buy; an amendment with respect to the Covid-19 death-in-service ex gratia payments; an amendment with respect to DAC 7; an amendment with respect to the temporary business energy support scheme; and an amendment regarding the mineral oil tax for horticulture producers. I am conscious that between now and Report Stage there is less than a week. I will furnish Deputy Doherty and the committee with a note in regard to these amendments so they will have an opportunity to consider them.
I move amendment No. 86:
In page 189, to delete lines 37 to 43 and substitute the following: “(2)(a) Where the Minister for Finance makes a determination of the kind lastly referred to in subsection (1)(e), the Minister for Finance shall, as he or she deems fit and necessary-(i) make an order providing that the day referred to in the definition of “specified period” in section 88(1)as the day on which the period therein referred to shall expire shall be such day as is later than 28 February 2023 (but not later than 30 April 2023) as the Minister for Finance considers appropriate and specifies in the order,
(ii) make an order providing that an amount, being such amount as the Minister for Finance-(I) considers necessary to-shall stand substituted for an amount for the time being specified inparagraph (a) of section 88(9), represented by “B” in the formula in paragraph (b)(i)of section 88(9)and specified in paragraph (b)(iii)of section 88(9)(and which amount, so specified or represented as the case may be, is greater or lower, as the Minister for Finance considers necessary, than the amount concerned for the time being specified or represented in the foregoing provisions) and references in this subparagraph to the amount concerned for the time being specified or represented in the foregoing provisions are references to the amount concerned for the time being specified or represented in those provisions, as enacted, or in consequence of a previous order that has been made under this subparagraph,(A) fulfil, better, the objectives specified in subsection (1)(a), orand
(B) facilitate the furtherance of any of the purposes specified in subsection (1)(b),
(II) specifies in the order,
(iii) make an order providing that an amount, being such amount as the Minister for Finance-(I) considers necessary to-shall stand substituted for an amount for the time being specified in paragraph (b)(i)of section 88(9)(other than the amount represented by “B” in the formula in paragraph (b)(i)of section 88(9)) (and which amount, so specified, is greater or lower, as the Minister for Finance considers necessary, than the amount concerned for the time being specified in the foregoing provision) and references in this subparagraph to the amount concerned for the time being specified in the foregoing provision are references to the amount for the time being specified in the foregoing provision, as enacted, or in consequence of a previous order that has been made under this subparagraph.”.(A) fulfil, better, the objectives specified in subsection (1)(a), orand
(B) facilitate the furtherance of any of the purposes specified in subsection (1)(b),
(II) specifies in the order,
Sections 87 to 89 of the Finance Bill as published provide for the temporary business energy support scheme, TBESS. The key features of the scheme are as follows. It will provide support for companies, self-employed individuals and partnerships carrying on a trade or profession, the profits from which are chargeable to tax under case I or case II of Schedule D. Sporting bodies that carry on certain activities which would be chargeable to tax under case I or case II of Schedule D, but for an available exemption, are included in the scheme. Charities that carry on activities that would be chargeable to tax as trading income, but for an available tax exemption, are also included in the scope of the scheme.
The scheme will operate in respect of electricity and natural gas costs relating to the period from 1 September 2022 to 28 February 2023. Claims may be made in respect of each calendar month within this period. The first claim period for which a claim can be made is September 2022. The scheme operates by reference to bills for the metered supply of electricity and natural gas through electricity accounts or gas connections identified by its own meter point reference number, MPRN, or gas point reference number, GPRN.
To be eligible to make a claim under TBESS in respect of an electricity bill or a natural gas bill, a business must be able to demonstrate that the average unit price for electricity or natural gas has increased by 50% or more compared with the average unit price of electricity or natural gas in a reference period. In broad terms, this is the average unit price in the month that is 12 months prior to the claim period to which the relevant bill relates. This increase is known as the “energy costs threshold”. Once the eligible business has passed the energy costs threshold in relation to a particular electricity or natural gas bill and satisfies a number of other conditions, it is what is called a “qualifying business”. A qualifying business is entitled to claim a temporary business energy payment, TBEP, amounting to 40% of its eligible cost, subject to a €10,000 cap or a €30,000 cap where the business is carried on from more than one location, for each monthly claim period. Revenue has published comprehensive guidelines on the operation of the scheme, which include information on eligibility for the scheme and how claims may be made.
Section 87 is being amended to specify that the scheme will run until 28 February 2023 rather than 31 December 2022. The reason for this amendment is because the temporary crisis framework, TCF, has been extended beyond 31 December.
Section 88 is being amended to ensure that pay-as-you-go customers can claim under the scheme, as intended. This section is also being amended to exclude credit and financial institutions from the scope of TBESS. This is a condition of receiving state aid approval from the European Commission for the scheme.
A number of amendments are being made to the section to reflect recent revisions to the Commission’s temporary crisis framework, including an increase in the limits of aid that apply in regard to a single undertaking. The increased limits are: €250,000 where the single undertaking is active in the primary production of agricultural products; €300,000 where the single undertaking is active in the production, processing and marketing of fishery and aquaculture products; and €2 million per single undertaking in any other case. Amendments are being made in regard to the information being supplied to Revenue in connection with a claim and the process for clawing back amounts incorrectly claimed under the scheme. Provision is also being made to require records to be maintained and made available by claimants to Revenue.
To satisfy requirements under the temporary crisis framework, provision is also being made to publish certain additional details in regard to qualifying businesses that form part of a single undertaking in circumstances where the single undertaking receives support above certain thresholds set out in the framework. To mitigate the possibility of fraud, provision is also being made to allow Revenue to consult energy or gas suppliers for the purpose of verifying a claim made under TBESS.
Section 89 is being amended to ensure penalties relating to TBESS can be determined and collected in the same manner as other penalties.
In my earlier comments on section 87, I neglected to make the point that section 87 makes reference to the change in the date of the scheme, which I said went on until 28 February. I omitted to acknowledge that it is also being amended to provide that the monthly caps can be increased or decreased by order where such change is considered necessary to meet the objectives of the scheme.
Our concern about all of this is that very profitable companies and data centres should not benefit. That is basically it. We are worried about data centres being able to get it because we have a fundamental problem with data centres and the drain they represent on the energy of this country, which is rising exponentially. We would put a fair bit of the responsibility for the energy security concerns we now have in this country on their shoulders and on the Government's shoulders for facilitating and encouraging the massive proliferation of data centres, with the huge consequences they have for the energy of this country, such that they are going to absorb huge amounts of whatever renewable energy we may develop.
They are currently using a much higher volume of energy proportionately than they do in most other countries, if not all of them. They are, therefore, part of the problem that we are now all facing, and we think that they should not be supported in that regard.
There is also the matter of supports that we want to see for businesses that are genuinely struggling with this massive hike in energy costs, including electricity and so on. We want them to be supported and we do not want to see businesses and SMEs going under in this situation. They deserve the support, just as they deserved the support during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, we think there should be a different approach for companies making big money. Basically, if they are profitable or if their turnover is above a certain level, we think that they probably do not need the help. I would the Minister respond to that.
The scenario on my mind relates to a company that is a big employer in Ireland and that may be part of a global multinational company. Because of the change in energy prices in Ireland, it may become less profitable than it has been but it is still being profitable and, because of this, it runs the risk of affecting jobs in Ireland. That could happen. A company could be profitable but because it is less profitable than it has been due to a rise in energy prices, that may affect workers. That is a real possibility for employers in Ireland. In that situation, I do not want people, our fellow citizens who work for those companies, to lose their jobs or to have their income affected.
As to the Deputy’s point regarding large companies, what if a company that is large but unprofitable becomes even more unprofitable due to the rise in energy prices and, therefore, reduces the numbers of people it employs? A company can have a large turnover be unprofitable, be a big employer and, because of the scenario that we are in, it can need help. We are willing to offer that help because we want the jobs to be kept. I understand where the Deputy is coming from when he asks if a company is profitable, why it needs the support of the taxpayer, I understand that, but we are moving into a scenario whereby companies will either be a lot less profitable than they have been or they will potentially still have a big turnover in value terms but will make a loss. In the economic conditions that we are in, that could result in job losses. That is only for big companies.
Small and medium sized companies - although in fairness to the Deputy he was not talking about them - are facing real difficulties across this period and this scheme will help with that but larger companies tend to be larger employers and the maintenance of that employment in the challenging period that we are now in is something that the State has to play a role in. That is why TBESS does not look at what is happening to turnover or to profitability; it is all about the energy cost change. All of that being said, I imagine that large energy users like data centres will have minimal participation in the scheme because of the cap. There is a cap of €10,000 in place in this scheme, as well as €30,000 for multiple connection points, because we need to have a cap on the funding the scheme makes available to companies. An alternative scheme will be made available through the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to which data centres will be able to apply. Big energy users that are big companies and that may still be profitable will apply for it and I imagine they will receive its support. That is because they are employers.
The point that I would ask the Deputy to consider is that a big company that may have been profitable in the past could now be making losses and could employ many people in Ireland. It might be an Irish company and it might not be a big global name. There may also be companies that have become far less profitable due to the rise in energy prices and because of that they can make decisions about the people they are employing and how they are employing them. I do not want to see that happen. Other countries are acting to try to prevent those scenarios from developing and that is why I believe a scheme like this has a role to play.
As for data centres, we have a fundamentally different view on them. I do not think data centres will receive much support at all from this scheme because of the cap. I accept that they have energy impacts that we need to better plan for and to be in a better position to accommodate, but they are a fundamental part of how employment is maintained in Ireland by big employers that are international in nature. I will not name companies because it would not be appropriate for me to do so but most of the data centres that the Deputy may raise with me are also associated with firms that are large employers in our country. I am concerned about the narrative and the case that some are making about data centres when they argue that they are more of a cost than a contribution. There may be energy consequences that we have to better accommodate and plan for in the future, but they are essential in the proposition that Ireland has developed to play its part and keep jobs in a global economy that is becoming rapidly digitised. That is why those data centres matter but they will have limited involvement in this scheme.
We have a different perspective. My optimum solution, and I say this in all sincerity, is that we would improve this situation even more by nationalising energy and running it on a not-for-profit basis. That would help even more. This is the scheme that the Minister is proposing and I take his point about turnover. However, if it was to be based on profitability, it would be entirely reasonable to have a profitability threshold above which a company would not need support. While it depends on where the threshold is set, I do not envisage some of the big employers the Minister mentioned running for the hills if we say that companies will get support when they are below a certain threshold because their existence is threatened, but those whose profits are above a certain threshold can absorb some of the cost because their existence is clearly not threatened. I suspect that the Minister disagrees with me, but I will put the argument in any event.
On the subject of data centres, I fundamentally disagree with the him. I am thinking about the sheer scale of these data centres in terms of their impact on our energy. There was brief talk about how we could have blackouts. If we took out the data centres, that would not have been a threat. That is how much of our energy they are sucking up. Some of the big, mega data centres that are planned for the near future will balloon that even further. Even as we develop our renewable energy resources, they will suck up much that energy. That is a real problem and it is a serious contribution to an energy crisis that is developing. The Minister is understating just how big of a problem they are for us, in particular because of the huge proliferation of them that we have, and we have to address that.
I suspect we disagree but I just wish to mark the issue.
I do. It is important that we have a scheme that supports businesses. Deputy Boyd Barrett raised what I would like to touch on. My amendment calls for a report on the operation of the temporary business energy support scheme and options to amend its qualifying criteria and rates of payment, with reference to appropriate thresholds, such as turnover and profitability. It goes to the core of the issue.
The reality is that people are hanging on. I have made the point to members and others before the budget that while this support will be very welcome among smaller operators, it is not enough. It will contribute a proportion of their energy costs but the percentage probably does not make it viable. I am not sure how many will be in this category, but we are hearing about it. I suppose the ones that are really struggling are the ones who will reach out to you, but I am concerned about the smaller operators who have seen their electricity and gas prices increase significantly over a year. Forty percent of the increase will be available and will be a cushion but the fact that those with cash reserves and who may have the ability to trade through this period will get the same support, up to a cap of €10,000, or €30,000 if there are multiple connections, means there is not a good, directed and focused State resource. Therefore, I believe we should have been able to vary the rates, ensuring small businesses that lack sufficient cash reserves and access to credit will be able to meet the rising energy costs and that those with a greater turnover or profitability, possibly the larger corporations, will have their support limited. This is what our amendment is about.
We have seen various incarnations of the wage subsidy scheme. Payments were tapered on the basis of income. This is not the case with the temporary business energy support scheme. Rather, there is a flat-rate payment. All companies, regardless of whether they have millions of euro in cash reserves, can avail of the support up to a cap, whereas a company without a cash reserve might be running on an overdraft that pushes it over the cliff.
We called for a similar scheme to be introduced that would absorb a portion of the energy bills of companies during the winter, having regard to a reference point. We pointed to one of the schemes that existed in another European jurisdiction. We did not agree completely that scheme because it kicked in only on reaching a high threshold, but there were different supports depending on a company’s status. I will not continue to speak at length on this as I have raised my view on it. I am mindful that the Minister has made up his mind on this issue.
The other issue is that there are multiple ways to design a scheme like this. Some countries have said that when a company’s energy prices increase by X percent, it is a portion above X percent on which the relief will be provided. That is what we have done here. The Netherlands went to 100% but was able to provide supports of up to 70%. They ranged from 30% to 70%, depending on the viability or the support necessary for the companies.
When there is a cut-off point, it is always challenging and difficult because there is then a system of winners and losers. In this scenario, it is really tough for many companies. A 50% increase in electricity and gas costs, or an increase marginally below that, is quite significant. We will have a scenario in which companies that use more electricity will have a lower bill than those that miss the threshold. I am conscious that, no matter where a point is set, there will be winners and losers, but sometimes when we design these things we nearly need to taper them to ensure the step is not so big. That is the situation in this case. To take an example, a company operated by Deputy Ó Murchú might have an electricity bill of €24,000 this year and as it had a bill of €15,000 for the same period last year, Deputy Ó Murchú's company is eligible under the scheme because its electricity cost has increased by 60%, or €9,000. Forty percent of that, €3,600, will be provided by the State, meaning the bill this year for Deputy Ó Murchú will increase by €5,400. By contrast, a company operated by Deputy Matthews which had an electricity bill this year of €22,000, which is just €2,000 less, and an electricity bill for the previous year of €15,000 - which is the same as that of Deputy Ó Murchú's company - would not be eligible for the benefit. Therefore, it has to pay the increase of €7,000 itself. It will have used less energy. Maybe there will be reasons for that. Maybe it is a more environmentally-friendly company using energy more sustainably and maybe it is careful about its lights or fridges or has invested under some of the energy schemes we have supported in various Finance Bills down the years but it will be paying €7,000 by comparison with the company that is using more energy, which will be paying €5,400. There is an issue here that I ask the Minister to consider.
We cannot take away the step effect but could possibly mitigate it by having a second step. I do not have a proposal on how to rectify the problem. The issue is that while the bill of Deputy Matthews's company - which is the energy-efficient company - will have increased from €15,000 to €22,000, it will not get any support. That is a problem. I do not have a solution but am raising this in the context of similar schemes that have been tweaked and amended. The scheme in question needs to be amended. There could be a second step, with a different level of support, and so on. Through the amendments the Minister has introduced, he has given himself the option, or the authority, power or flexibility to vary the rates, which is good. We argued for that in respect of schemes introduced during the Covid pandemic. It means we do not have to have primary legislation all the time. My understanding is that it does not allow you to introduce multiple rates. Maybe the Minister will clarify that. If multiple rates cannot be introduced, it is a problem.
The other issue raised with us, on which we will seek to make an amendment on Report Stage, is related to amendment No. 93, in the name of the Minister and which deals with the exclusion of financial institutions. The credit union movement has been in contact about this.
They are raising concerns, albeit not about the exclusion of credit institutions. They understand that this is a state aid requirement. They would argue that credit unions should be exempt from this as credit unions are there for the social good. They serve their members, they do not have customers or profits and all of the dividends are for their members. They believe that an amendment on Report Stage could ensure that credit unions would also be able to benefit from this scheme. I am not sure what the Minister's thinking on this is but I would like to hear it.
A lot of this has already been dealt with by Deputy Doherty. He spoke about his own amendment, which just looks for something that is more directional and takes into account the anomalies with which he dealt. There will be certain firms, particularly smaller operations, that will need a greater level of support. It is a fair ask with regard to the credit unions.
I will throw another issue out in respect of which I will bring an amendment forward on Report Stage. It concerns whether we could have a variation on TBESS for communal or district heating systems. I am talking about the likes of Carlinn Hall in Dundalk. This difficulty with these is that initially they were meant to be fed by woodchip and biofuel but through a lot of unintended consequences, many of them ended up being fed by gas. A small number of companies, like Frontline or Kaizen, buy gas from Energia and this gas is used to heat the system and everybody is connected to this one system.
Prices have gone through the roof. In the case of Carlinn Hall, the price is around 42 cent per kilowatt hour. Other are operating at about 47 cent per kilowatt hour. We are talking about unsustainable levels. I dealt with the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and officials in his Department. In the long term, the solution is to change the source, to either woodchip or geothermal, and work is being done there. The SEAI and the working group that is looking at district heating are looking at putting all these solutions together. The quicker this happens, the better. I know the management company in Carlinn Hall has spoken to companies, third parties and the SEAI about finding solutions. The best-case scenario involves solutions that will be in place for next March or April and that will kick in for next winter but we are in a bad place at the moment. We are talking about mitigation.
The idea would be that TBESS could consider on a location-by-location basis providing companies like Frontline with a sufficient ring-fenced amount. This money would be divvied out among the residents. I should explain that in most of these situations, the likes of Frontline charge a service charge. It is a company that maintains the heating system. It does not actually make a profit from the gas. It buys it in but it is seen as a commercial operator.
The scenario is a disaster from cost and environmental perspectives. I know a lot of work is under way dealing with efficiencies. When the task force working group finishes its piece, I imagine there will be legislation that will not allow more of these to happen. While district heating is a great idea, these communal heating systems are not good from cost and environmental perspectives. Given where the price of gas is, the situation is a disaster. I acknowledge I am throwing this at the Minister but we need a solution to this issue. It is short-term mitigation. The long-term solution is to change the source and a significant amount of work on this is ongoing.
To respond to Deputy Doherty's points, we aim to release data similar to those released every month in respect of the employment wage subsidy scheme in respect of the operation of TBESS. We will try to provide information to the Oireachtas and the public about how this scheme is operating, what it is costing and any information we are able to extract from the data that is of help in understanding how the scheme is operating. We will do that because as with the employment wage subsidy scheme, when we are using hundreds of millions of euro of the country's money, it is important that we are as transparent as possible regarding its use. I also want to use the data to answer questions about the design and operation of the scheme.
Deputy Doherty said he received some contact regarding the adequacy of the scheme, the level of the cap and whether we have that right. I am very conscious that any decisions about the level of the cap have an exponential effect on the overall cost of the scheme. In order to form a view about whether the design of the scheme is right, we are going to need lots of information about it. I expect this will be available to us early in the new year by when we will have six weeks of companies registering for the scheme. We can then form a view about what will be the real cost of it and whether any change is needed. The reason I am not accepting the call here for a report on TBESS is because we will endeavour to publish the kind of information we published on Covid support schemes, which bear a relationship to this scheme.
Regarding the cut-off and step effects referred to by the Deputy, I will deal with Deputy Matthews and his supposed business in a moment. I may have good news for Deputy Matthews and his business that may be of use to him and concerns how he might participate in the scheme and the design of it. The step effects about which Deputy Doherty is rightly concerned, and he acknowledged that there will be step effects in any scheme, concern the potential for it to become more difficult to predict winners and losers the more variables and criteria for determining who can be in the scheme you introduce. I will use the Deputy's example of cash reserves. He argued that a company with a large amount of cash reserves should not be able to access the scheme but how do you measure what those cash reserves are for an economy-wide scheme? Do you fix a particular amount of money and say that if a company's cash reserves are above it, it cannot take part in the scheme? What is a high level of cash reserves for one company might be a low level for another. If you begin picking thresholds such as cash reserves - I know the Deputy did not do it but Deputy Boyd Barrett did in respect of profit - that of itself can generate lots of winners and losers, which could have adverse effects. If we use profit as a test for whether a company can be in the scheme, not including a low-profit company in the scheme and giving it additional support may undermine that company's medium-term ability to keep people in employment and to continue to trade successfully. I want companies to have a chance through being on this scheme to get out of this energy crisis in a condition that is somewhat similar to their condition before they went into it.
I hope that when this great test of such high energy prices begins to subside, the harm that will have been done to the balance sheets of small, medium-sized and large employers will have been mitigated by this scheme. In order to give us the best chance of that, I believe in setting targets relating to turnover, cash balances and profit. It is exceptionally difficult to do that when one has an economy-wide scheme. The winners and losers, and the step effects that the Deputy referred to, could also grow.
That leads nicely on to the hypothetical businesses attributed to Deputies Ó Murchú and Matthews. We debated energy bills a lot when designing the scheme. Originally, we looked at the issue of energy bills and a change in energy bills. Exactly as the Deputy said, it would look at the energy bill of one company-----
Yes, but they are different. It is possible that in Deputy Matthews's scenario, Deputy Doherty is right. If the cost of Deputy Matthews's bill has gone up by a smaller amount than that of a peer company - the actual value of the bill has gone up by a smaller amount than that of the company beside him - as long as the unit cost has gone up by 50%, that is what will determine whether the company comes into the scheme.
The reason we made that design choice was that we did not want companies that were trying to be energy efficient and to mitigate the growth in the value of their bills finding themselves excluded from the scheme. That is why, when we were designing the scheme, we started off by considering the change in the value of the bill. That is not where we ended up, however. We ended up choosing the percentage change in energy unit cost month by month because we still want to incentivise companies to be energy efficient. This means that companies where the unit cost has gone up by more than 50%, but the value of their bill has gone up by a lesser amount, are on the scheme. I think that is the right design choice. However, to go back to the point I opened with, it is in the interest not only of the Oireachtas but also of the Department of Finance to get as much information as possible on the operation of the scheme and to make what we can publicly available. This will enable us to continue to look at these design choices as the scheme operates, to understand the cost and to understand whether we have got the design choices right.
On the point made by Deputy Ó Murchú, TBESS is available to tax-compliant businesses that carry out a trade or a profession and the profits of which are eligible to tax under case 1 or case 2 of Schedule D where they meet the eligibility criteria. If companies supply heat through communal and district heating schemes, and they are carrying on a trade that is chargeable to tax under case 1 of Schedule D, they will be eligible for support under TBESS where conditions of the scheme are met. If companies are not-for-profit entities, however, it is unlikely they are going to be recorded as a trade that is chargeable to tax and, therefore, they would not be eligible. Reference has been made to this limitation in the eligibility of enterprises.
There is a state aid issue with regard to credit unions, which have been the subject of some focus. The bigger issue is that credit unions, as I understand it, are not on case 1 or case 2 of tradeable income and, as a result, are not on the scheme. The cost consequences of beginning to include enterprises that are also on case 3 and have a taxable relationship with Revenue Commissioners under that heading, and what that would mean for the scheme, are not clear to me at the moment. That is a further reason it is difficult to deal with the inclusion of credit unions as the Deputy has asked me to consider.
On communal heating systems, I imagine that the likes of Frontline can avail of it on that basis. The problem is that two or maybe three of these companies have a huge number of individual locations. The limit of €30,000 or whatever could mean that a company would not necessarily qualify. This is not about saving Frontline, but about the residents who live in these residential set-ups. It is a very bad set-up. In fairness, a significant amount of work is being done by management companies, and by Frontline and the others, to deliver a solution involving the Department, the SEAI and everyone else. As I have said, this is a bad winter. It is not about putting money into the coffers of Frontline. If benefits were allocated on a location-by-location basis, one might be able to mitigate the price for those people. In some of these estates, one will have some people who are in local authority housing, or housing that has been provided by approved housing bodies and all the rest of it, so a huge number of people will be experiencing severe cost constraints. All we are trying to do here is get people through the gap. I assume one could make the argument that TBESS is not the facility to do this work. I am saying that TBESS is the only facility I have seen in the last while that could possibly do this in the short term. In the medium and long terms, there is a solution. It just needs to be operated as quickly as possible.
We will discuss credit unions on Report Stage. The argument is that there could be a carve-out in relation to credit unions. That is what has been suggested. We will look into the matter in greater detail. I am happy to park it until our discussion on Report Stage.
When I spoke about cash reserves, I was not talking about having a measurement based on cash reserves. I was talking about the fact that there are companies that will benefit from this provision that have large cash reserves. For a number of years, the Government has supported businesses. I hope we have reached the end of the period of needing to provide emergency support schemes. There are ongoing supports in research and development, and other types of supports. With the scarcity of resources within the State, the Minister has repeatedly reminded us about the need to impose levies on different individuals. This scheme will assist people who do not need support such as large and multinational businesses. Their profits may be affected but they would be able to trade through this time. I believe we need to build capacity in a far more targeted way, in case - touch wood - further interventions are required in the future. The report calls for us to look at this matter because we had the pandemic and now we have an energy crisis. Before that, we had Brexit but we did not have the same need to stabilise businesses across the board.
The Minister is right to say that the scheme is based on unit prices. Earlier, I mentioned hypothetical businesses. The reality is that the company owned, hypothetically, by Deputy Matthews would still have to pay more for energy - a bill of €7,000 compared with €5,400 - because of the unit price, the supplier and all of the different changes. It is not the case that we have one supplier in the State and all of the unit prices are the same. We will have different points where unit prices have increased, etc. and that is an issue.
For example, if your bill has gone up by 40% you are outside of this scheme.
I understand that. I mention a scenario where your unit price has gone up by less than 50%. In the case I gave you, Deputy Matthews's unit price had gone up by 47% and his fill had increased by €7,000. He is ineligible for the scheme. Deputy Ó Murchú's company's unit price went up by 60%, his bill went up by €9,000 and his actual bill that he will have to pay is €5,400. When your unit price goes up 47%, as in the case of this hypothetical business that I have unfortunately tagged Deputy Matthews with, you are not entitled to any State support for that €7,000 increase in your bill, which has translated from the unit price going up. That is a significant issue in the step effect. There has to be a step and there is one but there are ways to limit the step effect, such that you are in or you are out. A nearly 50% increase in the unit price of gas and electricity is a big jump. We can see that when a bill goes from €15,000 to €22,000. That could be multiples of that if it was a larger company. The impact on the bill could be double that and the customer still would not be entitled to any State support. If a customer's bill was €30,000 last year, the impact on his or her electricity costs this year would be €14,000 and he or she still would not be eligible for any State support because the unit price was below the 50% increase. That is an issue.
I want to raise the issue of the cost of this measure. How much does this cost?
From information that was shared with us by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications. We have developed a number of scenarios on what the cost will be and our view is that the upper end of that cost is €1.2 billion. However, it is very difficult to be clear and certain on this. It is the best estimate available to us but it is a figure we will have to continually revise and it is possible the cost will be higher. That is the reason I am taking such great care in not changing the cap that has been placed or making any changes to the scheme before it is open.
It is late in the day and we are coming to the end of this debate, but I would make the point that when it comes to domestic energy bills, we will continue to propose that the State should pay the difference between the reference point we are at and future prices up until the end of February. The Minister made strong arguments on that. This measure sets out that the State will pay a portion of the difference of the increase in the unit price between now and the end of February for businesses. However, the Minister does not know what the unit price could be next month, the following month and so on and so forth. There is a cap of €10,000 on it. I wanted to make that point because I would not make the argument to the Minister that he has brought forward on measures being uncosted and on blank cheques to people because he extrapolates, as others would do as well.
On the €1.2 billion, can the Minister tell me where the Department is extrapolating from? Where does it see unit prices being? What has the Department built in when it comes to unit price increases? For example, when we put forward our figures we built in a 50% increase. We are not likely to see a 50% increase in energy prices in December but we factored that into our costings. Where does the Department expect to see unit prices between now and the end of the scheme? How many businesses does the Department expect to apply for this? How many businesses does the Department expect to apply that will reach the cap of €10,000 per month?
We do not have the unit price information with us but I will get it and share it with the Deputy. The key feature in this scheme versus the cap argument we had earlier is the presence of a cap; that is the key design feature. The reason I can say we are making efforts to contain the cost is that we have a cap per individual premises on this. That is the key difference between this scheme and some other schemes that are being suggested. It is being suggested that we have a cap per business and per connection point of €10,000. If that does not enable us to be confident about the exact detail of the cost, at least it gives us a degree of certainty that we will be in a position to contain the costs for businesses. We anticipate that approximately 400,000 enterprises may meet the criteria for the scheme.
That is 400,000 enterprises. Does that come to about €4 billion? Would that be the upper end of the costs for this scheme? The Minister has talked about the Department's great design in terms of the certainty so is there certainty that this could not exceed €4 billion? Is that what the Minister is saying?
I understand but I am asking about the upper end of the cap. The cap is what gives you certainty, so with 400,000 enterprises it comes to €30 billion that it could cost. The only thing the cap can give certainty on is that it cannot go over €10,000 per business, which means it cannot go over €30 billion.
Of course but the Minister made a point on the proposal we put forward which factored in a 50% increase in energy costs in December right through to the end of March, which we did not expect either but we factored in as a buffer. The Minister says the design feature in his scheme is that the cap exists but the cap only gives you certainty that it will not go over €30 billion or somewhere in that region, which is 25 times what the Department is estimating. The cap does not give you that real certainty.
Our estimate is based on the modelling we have done with the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications and the information it has supplied to us regarding average energy usage. That has given us guidance that gets us to the €1.2 billion figure.
No. The cap plays a part in it because we have to look at what the higher energy uses could be and be confident that with the cap in place we have an ability to contain businesses' costs with them. We have done modelling on it and we have looked at the different scenarios. I am happy to share information on that modelling, which has given us a degree of assurance on the cost estimate I have shared with the Deputy.
The same issue pertains. The Minister knows and understands that and he does not want to recognise it. The cap does not give certainty. Neither the Minister or I know where energy prices could go. We do not know what could happen. There is forward purchasing in energy prices, with signals being provided for months ahead on energy prices increases, and gas operates on an eight-month trajectory whereby the product is purchased and then the impact is seen many months later. I am not suggesting that we will see increases in that scale.
I will make the point - because the Minister makes political accusations but I am just talking facts and figures - that he has no knowledge or cannot assure himself on where energy prices will go in the future. Nor can I but I built a 50% increase into my scheme from December on, just to make sure we had a buffer. The Minister has ensured that a €10,000 cap will apply to the larger consumption of energy companies but if unit prices go through the roof, these costs will balloon significantly.
If unit costs go through the roof, the Deputy's plan means the State would be liable for all the ballooning costs beyond his cap. In this scheme, however, it is capped at €10,000. That is the difference.
-----in a scenario whereby costs balloon, the exposure to the State is open-ended. In this scenario, if we are in an environment where costs increase by far higher than we expect, at least this scheme is capped at €10,000 or €30,000 per participant. That is the difference.
-----were reached by all the businesses, then that is the figure. Let us not interrupt. I know how energy and gas prices work, as I said. First, they are signalled in advance when they come in. That is why a scheme is introduced not for a couple of years but for a couple of months in order that it can be reassessed at that point in time. Second, gas is purchased on the market months in advance. Issues such as the war in Ukraine were felt by customers about eight or nine months afterwards and so on and so forth. That is why there will be a lag even when things, hopefully, resolve, and there will still be a long tail to the issues in respect of high energy costs.
I am not questioning the Minister's figures at all. The only point I am making is that his accusations and the mud he threw have no basis. He cannot assure himself, and nor can I, on energy prices. He can, however, extrapolate, as he has done, listen to energy companies and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, and try to figure out where energy prices are going. Therefore, the upper limit of this measure, which could be €30 billion, will never be reached because we will not have a situation where unit prices will balloon to that level, or a situation where all 400,000 businesses will be at that point. Equally, the buffer we put in as part of our proposal, which was a 50% increase by December in respect of energy costs, was a significant one that would have dealt with any issues.
The key thing is the Minister did not want to discuss the policy merits of what has happened in Austria, Germany and many other countries. As I said, the Minister wanted to play the man. That is wrong. I am not doing that. I am drawing comparisons. I am not questioning the Minister's rationale and extrapolation on this issue. I am making the point that the upper limit of this scheme, and the maximum amount this could actually cost, which it will not for all the reasons I outlined, could be in the region of €30 billion.
I completely disagree with the Deputy. In all the different charges or debates I have had, I have rarely used the approach of playing the man with the Deputy. I rarely made accusations about a person. I frequently and regularly, on a daily basis, make charges around the party and not about people. The latter is an approach I rarely used in my time debating with the Deputy or anybody in this House. There is a fundamental difference between the two schemes we are discussing. The scheme we are proposing includes a cash maximum that a business can access. Does the Deputy's scheme have a cap on the maximum amount that would be available to a household?
Let me finish. The Minister asked me a question so let me finish. We are not talking about Apple versus the corner shop. We are talking about households for a start. The rationale for an upper limit relates to large companies being able to have the State pay multiples of their energy bills. The Minister can shake his head but he outlined to Deputy Boyd Barrett that was one of the rationales for the cap being there. If the cap is there to curtail costs, there is no hiding that the upper limit of these costs is in the region of €30 billion.
I do not want to have this debate with the Minister at this hour of the night. I am just making the point that this year he has extrapolated and cannot be certain about the costs. He said that the costs are approximately €1.2 billion, and that they could be higher and had to continually be reviewed, because the one thing he does not know is where unit prices will go. As I said, the upper limit of this scheme, given that 400,000 businesses are eligible and they can all, potentially, claim up to €60,000, even though that will not happen, means the maths is in the ballpark of €20 billion to €30 billion.
I disagree with the point made regarding the differing designs of the schemes. The fundamental difference between this scheme and the one the Deputy is putting forward is that this has a maximum cap, in cash terms, that a participant can draw down, in this case, a business. In the Deputy's scheme, the maximum cash amount is not there for a household. Does he accept that design difference?
I am glad the Deputy agrees with me because the point I am making is not about the figures for the different costs of our schemes. The point I am making, which the Deputy has just acknowledged, is since there is no cash cap in his scheme, that means the cost is more open-ended than in this scheme. Does the Deputy accept that point?
I have already answered. Let me make this point. When the Minister's officials present to us the unit price projections that I asked for and, in fairness, he has said will be provided between now and the end of this scheme at the end of February, this point will be very clear. Like him, and his modelling and engagement with the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, we also looked at what the potential costs of this would be and we also talked to energy providers. It should be remembered that the Minister's scheme is for both electricity and gas while ours only applies to electricity. Therefore, there will not be, in the remotest scenario, a 50% increase in energy costs from December on, which was modelled into our scheme. The reality is we can hypothetically talk about the Minister's scheme costing up to €30 billion, which he accepted, or what the scheme I put forward could hypothetically cost, but in the real world we know where unit prices are likely to go over the period between now and the end of February and what their upper limit is likely to be, given the forward signalling on energy. That is the point I am making. I will rest my point at that.
I rest my case too because the Deputy has acknowledged my point. In the real world scenario we are in, because his scheme does not have a cash cost, or cash cap for participants in it, the cost risk of his scheme is larger.
The Deputy acknowledged the point already that in his scheme there is not an upper limit for how much a household can drawdown, whereas in this scheme, there is an upper limit as to how much a business can drawdown. Therefore, the risk of his scheme in terms of modelling is greater than this one. In the scheme I am putting forward, there is a cash limit. In his scheme, there is not. Because of the absence of a cash limit, even with the different modelling scenarios that we are talking about, if an extreme risk were to materialise, because his scheme does not have a maximum drawdown per household, there is potentially a greater risk on it. That is my point. The Deputy acknowledged that it does not have a cash limit on it and because of that the upside risk, in theory, is greater.
I have made my point but I would argue that the Minister’s scheme deals with electricity and gas. What I put forward is in terms of electricity. We are in November at this point in time and our scheme went to the end of the February. The Minister argued that we did something like what the Minister’s sister party, the Tories, did which was a two-year scheme on both electricity and gas. It is not true. In fairness, the Minister has been a man in his time, and I will finish on this point because we are coming to the discussion section, and the one thing he has done in his time as Minister for Finance is that he has kept to the truth until, I would argue, the past couple of months where he has been very much in spin. He knows some of the stuff that he said about the scheme is not true in regard to the Brits or all that. He knows it is not true.
He knows it. I understand parties are struggling and so on. However, it has been a hallmark of him in terms of giving answers and providing details and access to his Department. I say that because it may be the last finance Bill on which we sit across the table in the positions we are in at this point in time, or for a while anyway. I will leave it at that.
I will make a concluding comment. First, I meant to bring this up earlier on but I did not get the opportunity to do it. The Conservative Party is not a sister party of Fine Gael. It left the European People’s Party, EPP, under David Cameron’s leadership. It is not in the Christian democratic political family. I want to make that very clear. The Deputy will be aware as well that it is not in our political family.
We could bring the meeting to a sour end by talking about the different affiliations to other organisations that each of our political parties has had, but I will not do it. I will simply just inform the committee that conservative parties are not members of the political family that Fine Gael is in.
Second, I will stand over the point I made very firmly that the maximum amount that participants in this scheme can drawdown is limited in cash terms but not in the Deputy’s scheme. Therefore, that means the open-ended risk in his scheme is bigger. We can continue this debate on Report Stage.
I appreciate the Deputy acknowledged that at least until recently I have done my best to be truthful in my answers to him. However, from where I sit, I have maintained that commitment to truthfulness all the way up to this evening.
I move amendment No. 88:
In page 190, to delete lines 9 and 10 and substitute the following: “ “billing period” means, in relation to a TBESS electricity bill or a TBESS gas bill, the invoice period or the statement period, as the case may be;”.
I move amendment No 89:
In page 190, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following: “ “credit institution” has the same meaning as it has in the European Union (Capital Requirements) Regulations 2014 (S.I. No. 158 of 2014);”.
I move amendment No. 90:
In page 190, to delete lines 21 to 24 and substitute the following: “ “electricity invoice” means the periodic invoice, or that part of the periodic invoice, provided or made available by an electricity supplier to an eligible business in respect of an electricity account, requesting payment for electricity supplied during the invoice period to the eligible business;
“electricity statement” means, in respect of a prepayment meter, the periodic statement, or that part of the periodic statement, provided or made available by an electricity supplier to an eligible business in respect of an electricity account displaying, in respect of the statement period concerned, the number of units of electricity consumed, the total amount of charges in respect of electricity consumed and the payments made by the eligible business during that statement period;”.
I move amendment No. 91:
In page 190, to delete lines 30 and 31 and substitute the following: “ “eligible business” means, subject to subsection (2), a person who—
(a) carries on a trade or profession, either solely or in partnership, and
(b) is not a credit institution or financial institution;”.
I move amendment No. 93.
In page 191, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following: “ “financial institution” has the same meaning as it has in the European Union (Capital Requirements) Regulations 2014 (S.I. No. 158 of 2014);”.
I move amendment No. 94:
In page 191, to delete lines 5 to 8 and substitute the following: “ “gas invoice” means the periodic invoice, or that part of the periodic invoice, provided or made available by a gas supplier to an eligible business requesting payment for natural gas supplied during the invoice period to the eligible business through a gas connection;”.
I move amendment No. 95.
In page 191, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following: “ “gas statement” means, in respect of a prepayment meter, the periodic statement, or that part of the periodic statement, provided or made available by a gas supplier to an eligible business in respect of a gas connection displaying, in respect of the statement period concerned, the number of units of natural gas consumed, the total amount of charges in respect of natural gas consumed and the payments made by the eligible business during that statement period;”.
I move amendment No. 96:
In page 191, between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following: “ “Income Tax Acts” has the same meaning as it has in section 1 of the Principal Act; “invoice period” means the period in respect of which an electricity supplier or gas supplier issues an electricity invoice or gas invoice;”.
I move amendment No. 97:
In page 191, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following: “ “prepayment meter” means any meter or appliance by which the quantity of electricity or natural gas supplied is regulated according to the amount of money prepaid for the electricity or natural gas so supplied;”.
I move amendment No. 98:
In page 191, between lines 30 and 31, to insert the following: “ “single undertaking” has the same meaning as it has in Article 2 of the Commission Regulation (EU) No. 1407/2013 of 18 December 2013 on the application of Articles 107 and 108 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to de minimisaid;”.
I move amendment No. 100:
In page 191, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following: “ “statement period” means the period in respect of which an electricity supplier or gas supplier issues an electricity statement or a gas statement;”.
I move amendment No. 101:
In page 191, after line 37, to insert the following: “ “TBESS” means Temporary Business Energy Support Scheme;
“TBESS electricity bill” means an electricity invoice or electricity statement, as the case may be;
“TBESS gas bill” means a gas invoice or gas statement, as the case may be;”.
I move amendment No. 102:
In page 192, to delete lines 1 to 5 and substitute the following: “ “Temporary Crisis Framework” means the Communication from the Commission on the Temporary Crisis Framework for State Aid measures to support the economy following the aggression against Ukraine by Russia of 28 October 2022 (replacing the Communication from the Commission on the Temporary Crisis Framework for State Aid measures to support the economy following the aggression against Ukraine by Russia of 23 March 2022, as amended by the Communication from the Commission on the Amendment to the Temporary Crisis Framework for State Aid measures to support the economy following the aggression against Ukraine by Russia of 20 July 2022), and as may be amended from time to time;”.
I move amendment No. 104:
In page 193, to delete lines 4 to 7 and substitute the following: “ “electricity bill unit price”, in relation to a TBESS electricity bill, means the total amount of charges for electricity set out in the TBESS electricity bill exclusive of any value-added tax charged thereon, divided by the number of units of electricity consumed during the billing period the subject of the TBESS electricity bill;”.
I move amendment No. 105:
In page 193, to delete lines 21 to 23 and substitute the following: “ “gas bill unit price”, in relation to a TBESS gas bill, means the total amount of the charges included on the TBESS gas bill exclusive of any value-added tax charged thereon, divided by the number of units of natural gas consumed during the billing period covered by the TBESS gas bill;”.
I move amendment No. 108:
In page 194, to delete lines 13 to 23 and substitute the following: “ “reference electricity bill”, in relation to a reference period, means—(i) where the eligible business has been issued with a TBESS electricity bill with a billing period that begins on or before the first day of the reference period and ends on or after the last day of the reference period, that TBESS electricity bill,
(ii) where subparagraph (i) does not apply and the eligible business has been issued with 2 or more TBESS electricity bills which together have billing periods that include all of the reference period, each of those TBESS electricity bills, or
(iii) where subparagraphs (i) and (ii) do not apply, and the eligible business has been issued with 1 or more TBESS electricity bills which together have a billing period that includes only part of the reference period, each of those TBESS electricity bills;”.
I move amendment No. 109:
In page 195, to delete lines 32 to 39, and in page 196, to delete lines 1 and 2 and substitute the following: “ “reference gas bill”, in relation to a claim period, means—(i) where the eligible business has been issued with a TBESS gas bill with a billing period that begins on or before the first day of the reference period and ends on or after the last day of the reference period, that TBESS gas bill,
(ii) where subparagraph (i)does not apply and the eligible business has been issued with 2 or more TBESS gas bills which when taken together have billing periods that include all of the reference period, each of those TBESS gas bills, or
(iii) wheresubparagraphs (i)and (ii)do not apply and the eligible business has been issued with 1 or more TBESS gas bills which together have a billing period that includes only part of the reference period, each of those TBESS gas bills;”.
I move amendment No. 132:
In page 204, to delete lines 7 to 10 and substitute the following: “(ii) Where a qualifying business has 2 or more electricity accounts and, in relation to those electricity accounts—(I) the electricity supply address is the same, or
(II) the electricity supply addresses are located adjacent to each other, then, for the purposes of “A” in the formula in subparagraph (i), the electricity accounts to whichclause (I)or(II), as the case may be, applies shall be regarded as one electricity account.”.
I move amendment No. 134:
In page 204, to delete lines 22 to 25 and substitute the following:“(I) €250,000, where the single undertaking is active in the primary production of agricultural products,
(II) €300,000, where the single undertaking is engaged in the production, processing and marketing of fishery and aquaculture products, or
(III) €2,000,000, in any other case.”.
I move amendment No. 135:
In page 204, to delete lines 26 to 37 and substitute the following: “(ii) In subparagraph (i), the reference to any other amount claimed in respect of aid granted under Section 2.1 of the Temporary Crisis Framework shall include any amount, other than a temporary business energy payment, which a single undertaking has received or is entitled to receive, directly or indirectly, by grant assistance or any other assistance which is granted by or through the State, any board established by statute, any public or local authority or any other agency of the State.”.
I move amendment No. 136:
In page 205, to delete lines 23 and 24 and substitute the following:“(III) tax reference number,
(IV) a description of the trade or profession, as the case may be, being carried on,
(V) where the qualifying business has a relationship with one or more persons as a result of which the qualifying business and such other person or persons are considered to be a single undertaking, the name of each such person,”.
I move amendment No. 151:
In page 207, to delete lines 11 to 20 and substitute the following: “(a) the amount that is required by subsection (17)(a)(II)to be repaid (in this section referred to as “relevant tax”) shall be treated as if it were income tax due and payable by the person from the date the temporary business energy payment was paid by the Revenue Commissioners to the person, and
(b) the relevant tax shall be so due and payable without the making of an assessment.”.
I move amendment No. 152:
In page 207, to delete lines 21 to 44, and in page 208, to delete lines 1 to 4 and substitute the following: “(15) Notwithstanding subsection (14), where an officer of the Revenue Commissioners is satisfied there is an amount of relevant tax due to be paid by a person which has not been paid, that officer may make an assessment on the person to the best of the officer’s judgment, and any amount of relevant tax due under an assessment so made shall be due and payable from the date the temporary business energy payment referred to in subsection (14)was paid by the Revenue Commissioners to the person.”.
I move amendment No. 153:
In page 208, between lines 4 and 5, to insert the following: “(16) The provisions of the Income Tax Acts relating to—(a) assessments to income tax, and
(b) the collection and recovery of income tax, shall, in so far as they are applicable, apply to the assessment, collection and recovery of relevant tax.”.
I move amendment No. 154:
In page 208, to delete lines 21 to 42 and substitute the following:“(b) Where a person makes a claim under this section in respect of a claim period, and it subsequently transpires that the claim is an invalid claim or an overclaim, as the case may be, the amount of the temporary business energy payment paid by the Revenue Commissioners in respect of an invalid claim, or the amount of the temporary business energy payment overpaid by the Revenue Commissioners in respect of an overclaim, as the case may be, shall carry interest as determined in accordance with section 1080(2)(c) of the Principal Act as if a reference to the date when the tax became due and payable were a reference to the date the amount was so paid or overpaid, as the case may be, by the Revenue Commissioners.
(c) Paragraph (b)shall apply to relevant tax due and payable under subsections (14)and (15) as it applies to an amount of a temporary business energy payment referred to in that paragraph as is paid or overpaid, as the case may be, by the Revenue Commissioners in respect of an invalid claim or an overclaim, as the case may be.”.
I move amendment No. 157:
In page 211, between lines 5 and 6, to insert the following: “(23) (a) The Revenue Commissioners may where they have reason to believe that a claim made by a person under this section is an invalid claim or an overclaim (in this subsection referred to as a “relevant claim”)—(24) (a) A person who makes a claim under this section shall—(i) consult with an electricity supplier or gas supplier, as the case may be, for the purpose of verifying the relevant claim, and(b) Notwithstanding any obligation as to secrecy or other restriction upon disclosure of information imposed by or under statute or otherwise, an officer of the Revenue Commissioners may, for the purpose of enquiring into a relevant claim, serve on an electricity supplier or a gas supplier a notice in writing requiring the electricity supplier or gas supplier, as the case may be, within such period as may be specified in the notice, not being less than 30 days from the date of the service of the notice, to furnish to the officer in writing such information as the officer may reasonably require in relation to the relevant claim.
(ii) notwithstanding any obligation to maintain secrecy or any other restriction on the disclosure of information imposed by or under statute or otherwise, disclose any detail in relation to the relevant claim to an electricity supplier or gas supplier, as the case may be, which they consider necessary for the purpose of verifying the relevant claim.
(c) A notice shall not be served on a person under paragraph (b) unless the Revenue Commissioners have reasonable grounds to believe that the electricity supplier or gas supplier, as the case may be, is likely to have information relevant to the verification of a relevant claim.
(d) Where an electricity supplier or gas supplier has been requested by notice under paragraph (b) to provide information to the Revenue Commissioners and the electricity supplier or gas supplier, as the case may be, fails to provide the information requested within the period specified in the notice, the electricity supplier or gas supplier concerned shall be liable to a penalty of €1,000.(i) maintain such records, and(b) The records referred to in paragraph (a)shall be retained for a period of 10 years from the date on which the claim period, to which a claim relates, ends.”.
(ii) upon a request made in writing by an officer of the Revenue Commissioners, make available such records or provide such other information, as may reasonably be required for the purposes of determining whether the requirements of this section are met.
I move amendment No. 158:
In page 211, lines 12 and 13, to delete all words from and including “the” where it firstly occurs in line 12 down to and including line 13 and substitute the following:“—
(i) the day that is one month after the day on which the specified period ends, in respect of the amount so paid under this section during the specified period, and
(ii) the day that is 5 months after the day on which the specified period ends, in respect of any amount so paid under this section for any claim period falling within the period 1 September 2022 to the day on which the specified period ends.”.
I move amendment No. 161:
In page 211, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following: “(24) (a) In this subsection—“SME”, in relation to a single undertaking, means a single undertaking that would fall within the SME category of Annex 1 of the General Block Exemption Regulation;(b) Where for any claim period the total amount of temporary business energy payment paid to a single undertaking is greater than—
“General Block Exemption Regulation” means Commission Regulation (EU) No. 651/2014 of 17 June 2014;(i) €10,000, where the single undertaking is active in the primary production of agricultural products or is engaged in the production, processing and marketing of fishery and aquaculture products, orthen, in relation to each person carrying on one or more qualifying business who is part of the single undertaking, the following additional information shall be published by the Revenue Commissioners on the website of the Revenue Commissioners on or before the day that is 5 months after the day on which the specified period ends:
(ii) €100,000, in any other case,(I) the sector of activity at NACE group level, within the meaning of Regulation (EC) No. 1893/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 December 2006, as amended by Regulation (EC) No. 295/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2008 and Regulation (EU) 2019/1243 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 June 2019;
(II) specification as to whether the person is part of a single undertaking which is an SME or is larger than an SME;
(III) the amount of temporary business energy payment referred to in subsection (26)(b)(iii)that was paid in respect of each claim period;
(IV) such other information as may be required for the purposes of section 3 of the Temporary Crisis Framework.”.
I move amendment No. 162:
In page 211, to delete lines 39 to 42, and in page 212, to delete lines 1 and 2 and substitute the following: “(26) The following provisions made in this section, namely—(a) the specification of 28 February 2023 in the definition of “specified period” in subsection (1)as the date on which the period therein referred to shall end;
(b) the specification of €10,000 in subsection (9)(a), subsection (9)(b)(i)and subsection (9)(b)(iii);
(c) the specification of €30,000 in subsection (9)(b)(i), shall, together with any other provision of this section that the following modification relates to, be construed and operate subject to any modification that is provided for in an order made under section 87(2)(a)and which is in force.”.
Pearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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