Tánaiste admits to 'communication difficulties' over household charge

Tánaiste admits to 'communication difficulties' over household charge

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has defended the Government’s handling of the introduction of the household charge, despite confusion among the public over payment methods.

The Labour leader said it was understandable that communication difficulties have arisen in relation to the registration of the €100, which is due on March 31.

“I do acknowledge there have been difficulties with the payment of the household charge, I do acknowledge there have been difficulties in relation to the communication of the household charge to householders,” said Mr Gilmore.

“But I think to some extent that is understandable enough given this is a new method of payment.”

Around 80% of householders have not yet registered for the flat levy, despite having just 10 days left until the deadline.

Moreover, it emerged last week that nearly half the population had not received Government leaflets outlining details of the charge and payment methods.

And despite the widespread belief that the €100 charge could be paid at post offices, the Government has since clarified that is not the case.

Earlier, Mr Gilmore insisted the public has a choice of easy ways to pay the fee – either online, through their local authorities or through the post office.

However, no direct payment can be made to or processed by An Post. Instead, householders can merely pick up the registration form from the post office and post it along with their payment.

The Irish Postmasters’ Union criticised the Government for failing to make provisions for householders to pay the levy at their local post office.

General secretary Brian McGann has called on Environment Minister Phil Hogan to make arrangements for the 1,100 post offices across the country to accept payments.

“At this late stage the minister’s plans for collecting the charge are in disarray and yet he is not allowing the public to pay through the most accessible means available to hundreds of thousands of people,” said Mr McGann.

“We have a ludicrous situation where people are arriving at post offices with cash in hand expecting to be able to pay the charge, only to find that we are prevented from facilitating them. It just doesn’t make sense.”

He accused the Government of going out of its way to make it difficult for individuals to pay the flat charge and insisted much of the population has no access to the internet and cannot avail of the online system.

Meanwhile, the Tánaiste also ruled out an extension to the registration deadline for the charge.

“There are no plans to extend the deadline,” said Mr Gilmore.

“The deadline is March 31. The household charge has to be paid.

“It’s set by the Government. It’s an interim charge pending the introduction of a property tax and it has to be paid.”

However Fianna Fáil this evening published a Bill to amend the household charge legislation, extending the deadline for payment until the end of September and addressing "some of other flaws in the initial legislation".

"The whole process surrounding the household charge has descended into a farce, entirely of the Government’s own making," the party's Environment Spokesperson Niall Collins said.

"The Tánaiste has made matters worse by saying the charge could be paid through post offices.

"This is totally misleading.

"While the forms are available at the post office the charge itself cannot be processed in the same way a household utility bill can."

“In light of the Government’s complete failure to manage this process we called for an extension to the deadline for payment," Deputy Collins added.

"We have also made it clear in this amending legislation that the private residences of Ministers of the Government are not exempt from the charge, clearing up confusion in the initial legislation."

Meanwhile Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald has called on Government ministers to end what she called "bully boy tactics" on the household charge.

Speaking during Leader's Questions in the Dáil, Deputy McDonald said the Government's handling of the matter "has been nothing short of a shambles".

“The desperation of Government is evident from the increasingly shrill tone of Government Minsters trying to frighten citizens into paying this charge," she said.

"The Government should stop trying to bully the electorate and start listening to them instead."

The Government hopes to raise €160m from the 1.6 million householders eligible for the tax, which will fund public services including libraries, footpaths and public parks.

While only one in five householders have registered for the charge, the Government has insisted it is optimistic the majority will pay and are simply leaving doing so to the last minute.

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