Exempt owners can be fined over charge

Tens of thousands of homeowners entitled to waivers for the household charge face fines if they fail to register for the levy despite being exempt from it.

Homeowners in receipt of mortgage interest supplement and some living in ghost estates are entitled to waivers under legislation for the charge.

The Department of Environment last night confirmed that the two groups will face fines unless they register for their waivers.

Some 18,988 people were in receipt of mortgage interest supplement at the beginning of the year, say the Department of Social Protection.

Two categories of homeowners living in unfinished estates are also entitled to waivers.

The Department of Environment said it was an offence not to register, even if a household was subject to a waiver or in such an estate.

While those on waivers will not have to pay late fees, as they are not paying the charge, they could be pursued for fines ranging from €1,000 to €2,500 under the regulations, the department confirmed.

The news comes as it emerged that the cost of allowing post offices collect the levy would only have cost the Government €1 out of every €100 for the charge paid.

Postal sources have confirmed that discussions with the department saw an amount agreed as low as €1 for every household charge transaction, if An Post had been given the contract to collect the charge on behalf of the Government.

Several TDs, including from Government parties, have criticised the department for not allowing post offices to accept payments for the charge, especially from the elderly and those collecting social welfare.

Previous speculation had suggested that the amount An Post wanted was as high €3 for every household charge paid at post offices.

When asked about negotiations with the department, a company spokeswoman for An Post said: “An Post’s commercial rates are confidential. With regard to speculation about a €3 per transaction fee, that is utterly unfounded. In reality, our fee would be closer to a third of that, depending on the precise service requirement of the client.”

This means An Post could have netted €16m if it had collected all the €100 charges nationwide from the estimated 1.6 million homes.

The Irish Postmasters’ Union expressed concern yesterday that the public could still pay the charge through the network of 1,100 post offices.

General secretary Brian McGann said: “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. 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.”

The department refused to comment on talks with An Post but said the decision to receive the levy online and in local authority offices had been made to save costs.

With mounting opposition to the charge and still less than a fifth of homeowners signed up, a number of people are beginning to openly say they will not pay it.

Celebrity solicitor Gerald Kean yesterday told 4fm: “I have registered to pay it but today I have changed my mind. I will now not be paying the charge full stop. Instead, I will now make a €100 donation to Crumlin Children’s Hospital this evening.”


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