Stark plans to remove cash forcibly from people’s bank accounts and benefits if they refuse to pay the controversial household tax are being drawn up by the Government, it can be revealed.
Environment Minister Phil Hogan said laws introduced two years ago may allow the State to seek court approval to “deduct from source” the €100 charge – yet to be paid by the vast majority of citizens.
Furthermore, the Fine Gael minister said fines for unpaid levies and late payment penalties – which could mount into hundreds of euro after a year – could also be taken directly from people’s pay packets and bank accounts.
“We have new legislation that was brought in by the previous government in 2010, which allows a court to, in certain circumstances, allow the State to deduct from source,” said Mr Hogan.
Hundreds of thousands of householders have so far not paid the charge, against the backdrop of a campaign against it led by several left-wing TDs.
Protesters have claimed they would rather go to court and jail than pay the fee, but the new legislation seeks to prevent that.
Latest figures show that only 15% – some 251,458 of the 1.6 million liable for the charge – have registered.
Those who fail to do so by the March 31 deadline have been warned they could face a fine between €1,000 and €2,500.
They will also accumulate late-payment penalties on top of the flat €100 charge, building interest fees of 1% per month for six months after the deadline date, which will rise to 10% per month between six months and a year after the date, and 30% per month after the first year.
Opposition TDs have made numerous calls for the Government to scrap the charge, arguing that a flat rate is unfair and that the wealthy should be taxed instead.
But Minister Hogan insisted he will not budge on the issue.
“We are determined to make sure that everybody pays,” he said. “The Government is quite clear and I’m clear that the household charge is liable and will continue to be and remain to be collected. I’m not going to budge a bit.”
The State hopes to raise €160m from the charge, which will go towards public services, including libraries and maintaining parks and footpaths.
The Environment Minister is optimistic the majority of householders will register before the deadline, for fear that failing to do so could lead to a cut in their public services.
“Irish people normally pay when they have to pay,” Mr Hogan went on. “Generally they leave it to the last minute. That’s what they did with the second house charge. There’s plenty of precedence of people leaving things to the last minute.”
The Fines Act 2010 is designed to reduce the number of people going to jail for refusing to pay fines by giving the Government more provisions to collect them.
Responding to questions on proposed changes to the legislation in the Dáil in January, Mr Hogan said plans were currently under way to allow the State to “deduct from source” with regard to the household charge.
“The Programme for Government contains a commitment to legislate for fines to be collected by attachment of earnings or deduction from social welfare benefits,” said Mr Hogan in response to written questions from the opposition.
“My department is consulting with the Department of Social Protection in relation to the social welfare aspects of the proposal and I expect to be in a position to bring forward legislative proposals to give effect to the commitment once those consultations have been concluded.”