Wednesday, 9 May 2012
John Kelly (Labour)
I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for his recent visit to Ballaghaderreen. He was well received by the Western Development Commission. When one is the bearer of good news, one is much appreciated. I thank the Minister for visiting the fire station and recognising the memorial on display for the firemen who died in the events of 11 September 2001.
The issue I want to discuss concerns the non-principal private residence charge, introduced by the last Government. When it was introduced, it was not meant to cover circumstances it is covering at present. There are thousands of small shops, businesses and pubs throughout the country whose owners were led to believe in 2009 that if they paid rates, they would not have to pay the second home property tax. Since the recent debate on the household charge, many shop owners and small businesses have been asking questions, on foot of their uncertainty, as to whether they are liable for the €200 charge. When they made contact with the local authorities, they were told they do not owe €800 but as much as €2,200 because of the accumulation of interest and penalties. In most cases, the people affected are shopowners who have built a house in the country and who have paid the property charge on that house. All they are left with is unused overhead accommodation. I have no issue with cases where overhead accommodation has been converted to apartments and flats that are being rented out. One should be liable in that instance. In many cases, however, the premises are just disused accommodation. Naturally, it cannot be rateable property because most businesses are already stretched paying rates for the downstairs parts of the buildings. People certainly cannot afford to have the whole property attracting rates. In most of these cases, access to the overhead accommodation is through the shop. How such a property can be considered a second property has me baffled. In many cases, most of the owners cannot afford to do up the properties to rent them.
Many may reluctantly pay the second home property tax, bearing in mind that they never believed they were liable in the first instance. I ask for an amnesty in respect of the interest and penalties for those who did not realise they were liable in the first place. I am not asking for an amnesty for those who simply will not pay. There are many genuine cases, however.
In 2009 and 2010, county council staff were not always sufficiently educated on the second home property tax. In many cases, they told business people such as those I described that they were not liable. Naturally enough, they did not pay as a consequence. I am familiar with one such case, that of a publican who lives in the country some two miles from her pub. I brought this matter to her attention during the week and she could not believe what I was suggesting.
Could the Minister not give control back to county councils such that they could account for genuine cases where people did not realise they were liable for the charge? The councils, in such cases, could collect the €800, which is vital, as opposed to expecting people to pay €2,200, which they simply do not have and will not pay. Will the Minister organise an amnesty in this case? I ask him to amend the legislation to account for ratepayers. At present, there is no exemption for ratepayers listed. It was never meant to be the case that the scenario I describe would arise. The Minister is a fair man and I expect him to give me a fair response.