Higgins wants backing for household charge boycott

Wednesday 05 December 2012 12.19
Higgins wants backing for household charge boycott

Independent TD Joe Higgins has encouraged the Government to support the boycott campaign not to register for the Household Charge, in order to send a message to the "overlords" in Europe.

The Local Authority/Household Charge Bill passed all stages in the Dáil tonight, by 90 votes to 47.

But it has emerged as the most contentious issue form Budget 2012.

The €100 charge is due to be introduced for two years from January and failure to pay it will carry penalty charges of up to 2,500.

Deputy Higgins said Irish people are not going to accept massive cutbacks in their services and living standards in order to bail out "a crazed market system".

He said he was alarmed to hear that the political correspondent on RTÉ news reporting that Government ministers were saying that they were not getting any real feedback from constituents that this tax is an issue for them.

Mr Higgins said constituents should ensure that in the next month or so, that ministers are left in "no uncertain mind" as to the huge opposition that exists in relation to this tax.

Fellow Independent Mick Wallace said the Government might as well have cut the social welfare benefit because they are taking the money indirectly.

"It amounts to the same thing," Deputy Wallace said.

Minister of State Fergus O'Dowd said the Government intends to apply the household charge for two years, after which a property tax will be brought in.

He added that Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan, is to establish an expert group who will examine how best to implement the property tax, in a way that is equitable.

Speaking in the Dáil, Deputy O'Dowd said the household charges will raise up to €160m on full collection, and it will have significant implications for services provided by local authorities.

There will be thousands, he said, who will be exempt from charge, including tenants in local authority housing, those availing of supplementary welfare allowance, tenants in housing provided by corporate bodies and those home owners who are forced to vacate their property due to disabilities and are living somewhere they do not own.

Hogan defends 'low' Household Charge

Minister Hogan said he had tried to keep the Household Charge as low as possible at €100, or €2 per week, and he had exempted many vulnerable groups such as people in social housing and people in nursing homes.

Mr Hogan said the charge was an interim measure, and the Government would be drawing up plans in 2013/2014 for a fairer property tax under which people with bigger houses would pay more than those with smaller properties.

Hogan accuses Higgins of political stunt

Asked on RTÉ's Six-One News about calls for a campaign to boycott the charge, Mr Hogan said this was a normal political stunt by Deputy Higgins and others, and it was irresponsible.

The minister said the Government was obliged to introduce a property tax under the terms of the EU-IMF loan agreement.

Earlier, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the new household charge amounts to a €2 per week contribution to services which have up to now been funded by the Exchequer.

Mr Kenny said all workers had been immune to income tax increases in the Budget and understood the need to fund these vital services.

He was responding to Socialist TD Joe Higgins who told the Taoiseach that the charge would be greeted by a mass public boycott, similar to the boycott of water charges in the mid-1990s.

Mr Higgins said the Government could source funding for local services by refusing to pay over €1bn to unsecured Anglo bondholders in January.

Deputy Higgins described the fines for non-payment of the household charge as a disgraceful campaign of intimidation.

In the Dáil this afternoon, Sinn Féin's Social Protection Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD said he too will not be paying the charge.

Independent TD Thomas Pringle last night called on people to support a campaign not to pay the charge.

Mr Pringle says he will not register for the tax, nor will he pay it.

Fines of up to €2,500 for non payment

The charge must be paid in full by the end of next March or the homeowner must have made arrangements to pay it in four instalments of €25.

A late payment fee of €10 will apply if it is paid within six months of the due date; €20 if between six and 12 months and €30 if the payment is 12 months late.

"These penalty provisions are proportionate to the level of the household charge and are similar to the provisions that apply under Revenue legislation in respect of the late filing and payment of certain taxes," said the minister.

People living in local authority housing will be exempt from the charge.

There will also be a waiver for residents of certain ghost housing estates, and those in receipt of mortgage income supplement.

Pensioners who are not residents of local authority housing will have to pay the charge.

A spokesperson for Age Action said the charge would put hardship on older people who are already struggling.

The charity said the vast majority of older people own their homes, and over half of older people are dependent on the State pension.

Age Action welcomed the fact that people would be able to pay the charge in instalments.

However, it said if the Government was serious about protecting the most vulnerable in society it should have considered extending the waiver for the charge.

The charge - which will come into effect from January - is expected to raise €160m for the Government in 2012.

Mr Pringle told the Dáil that he will support those who cannot afford the charge by not registering with his local authority.

Mr Pringle said the charge was a "tax too far".

Questions over Penrose's replacement

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach when a Minister with responsibility for Housing would be appointed to replace Willie Penrose.

Mr Adams pointed out that 5,000 people were homeless at a time when there were 300,000 empty housing units around the country.

He said that many people would be poorer and colder this Christmas because of the Government's ''Scrooge-like policies''.

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