Property tax - Government must change deadline

Despite the Government’s feeble bid to distance itself from the property tax controversy, the confusion in the minds of more than a one million people caused by a letter from the Revenue Commissioners is deeper and more politically embarrassing than ever.

Conflicting sounds are coming from the Coalition Cabinet. Taoiseach Enda Kenny of Fine Gael says no one has to pay the 2014 property tax in 2013 and points out that people have a number of options to pay the tax in 2014, such as spreading their payments. Seemingly more in touch with reality on the ground, especially the sense of bewilderment among an increasingly angry public, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore of Labour has called on Revenue to look again at the deadline arrangement for people making online payments by credit or debit cards.

Despite the concerns raised by Mr Gilmore, Labour look destined to lose yet another argument at the Cabinet table. The ‘not an inch’ stance of Fine Gael shows how out of touch and increasingly arrogant the country’s biggest political party is becoming regarding the plight of a public weighed down by grinding austerity.

The vast majority of citizens are willing to pay this new tax, albeit reluctantly. But widespread confusion has resulted from the lack of clarity in the Revenue letter asking them to select and commit to one of several payment options by Nov 27. Ironically, highlighting the deadline in bold lettering, has somehow added to the sense of fear in the minds of people who normally live in dread of seeing brown envelopes from the taxman dropping through the letterbox.

Effectively, the Coalition’s attempt to wash its hands of responsibility by pointing to the independence of the taxman is something of a cop-out. When it suits, politicians are not slow to make their views known to independent bodies. For example, earlier this year Justice Minister Alan Shatter became embroiled in a heated sentencing row with judges who accused him of attacking the independence of the judiciary.

The least Government should now do is demand greater clarity from the Revenue Commissioners regarding the controversial letter. That’s common sense and in no way a challenge to their independence.

The aim of the tax authorities should be to create a climate where people pay their taxes for the common good. Psychologically, it helps when you know your money is going towards education or mending potholes rather than bailing out reckless bankers or contributing to the obscene pensions of incompetent Fianna Fáil politicians.

Despite its obduracy, the Government should heed Mr Gilmore’s call for new deadlines and possibly consider amending the Jan 1 due payment date. If, for a change, the long suffering public was accommodated rather than the taxman, it would soften the daily grind.

By front-loading demands for revenue, the administration has shown little regard for the plight of families strapped for cash and struggling to pay bills.

With each Revenue attempt to clarify the confusion surrounding the property tax letter, the situation became even more confusing. Transport Minister Leo Varadkar admits it was the “number one issue” coming through his constituency door last week. Uncomplicated explanations in simple English would go a long way towards easing the fears created by this letter.

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