Councils told to get house tax by any means necessary

Councils have been told to do whatever it takes to collect the €100 household charge as anger intensifies over linking the levy to college grant applications.

However, Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes’s office said councils cannot chase people for the payment based on information being gathered in relation to student grants.

As protesters gathered outside the headquarters of Clare County Council yesterday, Phil Hogan, the environment minister, said he had approved its decision to ask applicants if they had paid the household levy and other taxes.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn and Jobs Minister Richard Bruton earlier said it was reasonable to expect that people who receive publicly funded grants were tax-compliant.

Mr Hogan told opposition TDs that he approved of efforts to incentivise payment of the charge: “I understand it [the council] is working closely with the Local Government Management Agency [LGMA] on the protocols that allows it to do so. I look forward to the same level of activity, and whatever means is necessary, to get an increased level of compliance with this household charge.”

Mr Hawkes’s office said it was acceptable for Clare County Council to gather information about payment to determine whose applications were processed first, which the council initially said was the aim of the exercise.

But the commissioner’s protocol, agreed with the LGMA, does not allow data gathered in this way to be used to pursue people who have not paid. “We have conveyed this view to the LGMA, who have responsibility in this area, and expect that it will provide any necessary clarification to Clare County Council,” a spokesperson told the Irish Examiner.

The council changed its explanation last night, saying the information was being sought to spread the message about the need to pay the charge. It said anybody who replied would be treated the same, regardless of whether the levy was paid or not, but only those who do not respond would face delays.

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