Seanad debates

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

6:00 pm

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)

I thank the Senator for raising this important matter for debate. The Local Government (Charges) Act 2009, as amended, broadened the revenue base of local authorities by introducing a charge on non-principal private residences. The charge is set at €200 and liability for it falls, in the main, on owners of rental, holiday and vacant properties. The charge on non-principal private residences, since its introduction in 2009, has contributed €218 million to the financing of vital local authority services, including fire and emergency services, planning and development services, the maintenance and cleaning of streets, street lighting, public parks, libraries, open spaces and leisure facilities.

There is no obligation on local authorities to issue notifications or invoices regarding the charge. It involves self-assessment. Nationwide advertising has taken place each year since the introduction of the charge in 2009 to ensure general awareness of the charge and the liability dates, and this has been successful. In tandem, local authorities have undertaken their own advertising campaigns locally. Communications have also been issued to persons who paid the charge in respect of previous years reminding them of their possible liability for the charge.

Significant efforts are being made to ensure property owners are aware of the charge and the liability dates. However, the charge is based on self-assessment principles and it is a matter for persons with a liability to pay the charge by the due date to avoid late payment fees. Payment of the charge within the three month period ending on 30 June discharges the liability to the charge and ensures late payment fees do not arise.

The Act places the charge on non-principal private residences under the care and management of the local authorities, and its application in particular circumstances is a matter for the relevant local authority. Interpretation of the legislation is a matter for legal advice in individual cases and ultimately a matter for the courts. This is not what Senator Kelly is contemplating.

I have no proposals to provide an amnesty from payment of the non-principal private residence charge. I issued guidelines to local authorities on 14 March on the operation of the care and management provisions of the Local Government (Charges) Act 2009 in the context of individual situations where genuine hardship in having to discharge a liability in a single payment can be demonstrated. In such cases the guidelines are set out and the modality has been agreed for local authorities to enter into payment arrangements for the discharge of outstanding liabilities in instalments over a specified period of time. The local authorities already have information that can stop the clock on the payment of interest and fees. A person can pay the original amount and enter into an arrangement to pay the remainder by instalments. Each county and city manager has been asked to do this in as simple a format as possible.

Providing clarity regarding liability for the second home charge is ultimately a matter for the local authority manager. The Act is specific in putting the onus for care and management on the local authority manager to allow discretion where there are genuine cases. If the property is not habitable, there is no liability, but this must be proved to the satisfaction of the local authority manager. I ask the Senator if he is aware of genuine cases to discuss them with the local authority manager. There is also flexibility in the payment arrangements, but I am not in a position to grant an amnesty.

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