Thalidomide survivor told she must pay €23k Vat bill for modified van bought in UK

Finance Minister refused to make an exception for Limerick woman Leigh Gath, who was forced to buy a €93k adapted van in England as no Irish companies offer the service
Thalidomide survivor told she must pay €23k Vat bill for modified van bought in UK

Leigh Gath with her converted van at home in Pallaskenry, Co Limerick. Picture: Brian Arthur

A disability advocate affected by the thalidomide scandal is faced with a Vat bill of €23,372 for importing a modified van from the UK after the Department of Finance denied her appeal for help.

Leigh Gath, formerly HSE confidential recipient for disabilities, relies on the van to work and travel from her home in Limerick.

“This is my independence,” she said. 

I am literally fighting here not to be imprisoned in my own home for the rest of my life.” 

Unable to drive a standard car and with no Irish companies offering this service, she arranged to have a Volkswagen Caravelle van adapted in England last year at a cost of about €93,000.

Under the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers Scheme, she received relief of €22,000 for VRT (vehicle registration tax) and Vat.

“I contacted the scheme before I went over to the UK. I got everything okayed and approved,” she said.

“They said all you need to do when you come back is send us your receipt. They send me back a letter, saying yes you are confirmed, take your paperwork to the VRT.” 

 Leigh Gath in her Volkswagen Caravelle van: 'This is my independence.' Picture: Brian Arthur
Leigh Gath in her Volkswagen Caravelle van: 'This is my independence.' Picture: Brian Arthur

This office however, said while the funding covered most of her VRT obligations, there was a problem with outstanding Vat.

Ms Gath said she was told she needed an extra €23,000,

“That was on top of the €22,000 allowance that is given for drivers with disabilities who need their vehicle heavily modified. I would not have been charged that at all had my vehicle been able to be bought in Ireland.” 

Her paperwork must be in order before October otherwise it cannot be insured, she said. 

“There appears to be fewer than 30 people in Ireland who have to go to the UK to have their vehicles modified,” she said.

Another member of the Irish thalidomide community was also told she must pay this fee because her vehicle was a “luxury van”.

“This woman doesn’t have any arms, and drives with her feet,” Ms Gath said. “It’s not a luxury.” 

She called on the Government to make an exception.

“I have not, and never have had, an issue paying my fair share for the van but I have an issue that myself and others are being charged for the equipment allowing me to drive it independently,” she said.

I am not going to pay the Irish Government €45,000 on a vehicle that with the modifications and everything else in it has cost me €93,000.” 

Ms Gath sought a meeting with Finance Minister Michael McGrath. The minister’s private secretary wrote to her this week, in an email seen by the Irish Examiner, saying was not possible to make an exception.

“Unfortunately, the minister, whilst appreciating the difficulties that this Vat charge places upon you, is not in a position under the current legislation to waive the payment of this sum, as it could create a precedent for the treatment of Vat on the import of new vehicles generally from the UK,” he said.

“This position is reinforced by the fact that Vat is a tax underpinned by EU legislation, and any waiver in your case could lead to action being taken against Ireland by the EU Commission.” 

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