By Craig Hughes
County Roscommon has the highest rate of offenders in the country, when it comes to failing to lodge income tax returns.
Using thirteen years of official figures from the Revenue Commissioners, the RTÉ Investigations Unit analysed all recorded convictions for certain types of tax offences in the period 2002 to 2014. The analysis shows a concentration of offenders in the North West of the country with 1 in every 149 people in Roscommon listed as failing to make tax returns in the period concerned. That rate was ten times the rate recorded in Co Kilkenny. At 1 in every 1,468 the county had the lowest rate of conviction in the country.
The data also provides details such as gender, occupation, the fine amount and the geographical location of those convicted for failing to lodge income tax returns. In total more than 11,100 people were convicted during the thirteen year period examined with fines totalling more than €20 million levied.
The number of convictions peaked at 1,061 just before the economic crash in 2007. There was a steady decrease in the number of convictions in almost every year since 2007. Last year saw the lowest number of convictions for the 13 year period examined with 570 people receiving convictions.
According to the data from the Revenue Commissioners, the North West region has the highest concentration of offenders per capita compared to any other part of the country. There could be a variety of reasons for this including a higher level of targeted enforcement by Revenue.
The RTÉ Investigations Unit calculated the number of convictions per 100,000 of population across the thirteen year period with counties Roscommon (671), Longford (651), Leitrim (569), Offaly (541), Donegal (536) and Mayo (477) amongst the worst offending counties in the country.
On the other end of the scale, Kilkenny had the lowest rate of offenders in the country with a per 100,000 rate of just 68 during the 13 year period examined.
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For the purpose of this analysis we condensed all occupations into five broad sectors. The construction sector had more than double the offenders compared to any other sector, accounting for 35% of all convictions.
Similar to the overall trend, the highest number of convictions for workers in the construction industry occurred in 2007 and was also at its lowest point in 2014. Throughout the recession, the numbers employed in construction fell dramatically, which would at least in part explain the decline.
Farmers were by far the most numerous offenders, accounting for more than 10% of all convictions. They were followed by company directors (4.7%), builders (3.5%), building contractors (3.2%), carpenters (3.1%) and plasterers (2.1%).
These statistics reflect sectors of the economy in which the majority of people file their own tax returns and therefore are more likely to come to the attention of the Revenue Commissioners through tax audits.
For example, there are almost no nurses, factory workers or shop assistants on the list because their tax – like most workers – is deducted at source.
There are also hundreds of people who listed more than one occupation and this does distort the figures somewhat, for example, where somebody is listed as a farmer/builder. These types of entries have not been counted for these overall totals.
Top Ten Occupations
Company directors (4.7%)
Building Contractors (3.2%)
Rental Income (1.9%)
Painter and decorator (1.3%)
Agricultural Contractor (1.2%)
Fine (Total Amount €)
Farmer - €1,766,191
Company director - €1,128,972
Building contractor - €732,611
Builder - €631,029
Carpenter - €612,049
Rental income - €485,415
Plasterer - €433,520
Painter and Decorator - €294,129
Agricultural contractor - €273,964
Men accounted for 94.2% of all convictions with women accounting for a mere 5.8%. The disparity there can be explained to some extent by the type of industries and activities, which are targeted by the Revenue Commissioners, primarily involving self-employed people. Jobs like building, carpentry, even farming tend to have more men employed than women.
Top 5 occupations broken down by gender:
Company Director (4.6%)
Building Contractor (3.3%)
Company Director (6.1%)
Rental Income (5.3%)
While some sectors like farming appear constantly on the list, others appear only sporadically as Revenue officials appear to target different sectors and geographical locations each year.
For instance, Donegal appeared to come under scrutiny from Revenue officials between 2002 and 2006 with 71.29% of all convictions in Donegal occurring during these years. In 2005, more than 20% of all convictions nationwide occurred in the county. While Donegal has one of the highest overall conviction rates during the thirteen year period examined, there were no convictions in the county in 2014.
In recent years Galway appears to have become a target for Revenue officials. In 2013 more than 19% of all convictions nationwide occurred in Galway. Similarly, in 2010 Galway accounted for almost 18% of all convictions nationwide. In what seems to be an indication of geographical targeting, 73% of all convictions in Galway during the thirteen year period examined occurred between 2010 and 2014.
However, the targeting was not exclusive to Donegal and Galway. In 2004 and 2005 – the county of Carlow appears to have come under increased scrutiny from Revenue officials when 74% of all convictions in the county, across the thirteen year period examined, took place inside a two year period.
In 2007, Revenue officials were busy in Meath with 42% of all the total convictions recorded in Meath occurring during that year. Similarly in 2004, more than 50% of the total convictions for Co Carlow occurred during this single year period. Again in 2010 there was a spike in Kildare with 30% of the total convictions occurring during this year.
It also appears that Revenue officials target specific occupations from year to year with the data showing dramatic increases and decreases year on year across the various occupations. For example, there were zero convictions for those working in haulage services in the years 2002, 2003 and 2004 – then between 2006 and 2008 there was a flurry of convictions (63) which accounted for 52% of the total across the thirteen year period.
A spokesperson for the Revenue Commissioners confirmed that “specific sectors and geographical locations may be targeted, on the basis of risk, for intervention from time to time”.
Taxpayers must file a return by the 31st of October each year or by mid-November if they are doing so online. A spokesperson for the Revenue Commissioners told RTÉ: “In February/March of the following year, Revenue issues a reminder letter to all taxpayers who have failed to file the return.
“A compliance campaign including letters, visits and phone calls is also conducted... the taxpayer is afforded every opportunity to file the outstanding return. Only cases with specific characteristics e.g. where there is clear evidence that a profitable business existed and/or where there are significant number of returns outstanding and/or where it is a repeat offence, etc. will it be considered for prosecution.”
They said legal proceedings would then begin and the matter would proceed to the courts. A person convicted of the offence can be fined up to €5,000 and/or receive a maximum prison sentence of 12 months. Where the matter is disposed of by indictment the person may be liable to a fine not exceeding €126,970 or, at the discretion of the court, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or both.
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