The Property Tax Exemption list published today (21st March 2013) bears little relation to reality according to James Lawless, Fianna Fáil’s Local Area Representative for the Naas Area, North Kildare.
James conducted research last year to uncover that 85 named estates within County Kildare had been refused provision of maintenance services by the County Council as they were deemed unfinished. James had anecdotal suspicions of estates being “cut off” from council maintenance and he confirmed this was the case when he pursued the issue via Freedom of Information requests last autumn.
The total list of estates not taken in charge across the county is into the hundreds says James. “Residents are now in the situation where they are literally looking out into darkness as the Council refuses to service their estate or fix basic faults such as public lighting” said James “and yet at the same time they are being asked to pay the full whack for property taxes with zero exemptions”.
“The Property Tax legislation contains a specific provision for unfinished estates to be exempted. I wrote to the Minister, enclosing the FOI listings of unfinished estates in County Kildare, requesting they be exempted under this provision. It beggars belief not a single one in that list have qualified”. “These estates are in the double whammy of not receiving public service and yet being on the hook for the full property tax. It seems illogical, unfair and at total odds with the provisions in the Act itself. They are unfinished when it comes to services but not when it comes to taxes it seems” said James.
“The household charge exemptions from last year appeared more to do with pot luck than any coherent criteria in terms of which estates were eligible and which weren’t. This year’s list simply beggars belief – regardless of service provision, completion status, whether or not taken in charge, all of those estates are now to be liable for the tax – it is at least consistent – equally unfair to all”.
Fianna Fáil’s Representative for the Naas area, James Lawless, has this week written to the Minister for Housing seeking exemptions against the property tax for up to 85 Kildare estates in line with maintenance records he received last year under the Freedom Of Information acts.
Property Tax - "A Local Tax for Local Service" ?
“As we now know Kildare County Council gave an order last year that 85 estates, not taken in charge, be removed from the maintenance regime, so that when the lights went out, they stayed out, in all of those estates. Broken bulbs would not be replaced and maintenance services were suspended” explained James. (Details here)
“I have now written to the Department of Environment seeking exemptions against the Property Tax for all of the affected estates.I think it is a bit much to ask people to pay a property tax for local services when they are looking out at broken lights and dark streets. In some cases residents are paying privately for their maintenance, others have a management company in place and some are not being maintained at all by anyone. Where there are management companies in place some townhouses are paying up to €700 a year for private services yet the government want to hit them again supposedly to pay for services which they are not even receiving in these estates” said James.
“Under section 10(4) of the Finance (Local Property Tax) Act 2012 there is a provision for estates deemed ‘unfinished’ to be exempted from the property charge. As the council evidently considers these estates unfinished it seems a fair assumption that no property taxes should be levied on them. It is not the council who decides however but the government and while a very small number of Kildare estates were exempted from the household charge last year, that list of exemptions bore little resemblance to realities on the ground in many cases. I want to make sure this error is not repeated and that the 2013 list is based on reality and drawn up with local consultation. The Minister for Housing is currently compiling the list of exempted estates and I have written to her to request exemptions for these estates and to share my records of the situation in each case” James continued.
“Last year’s exemption list appeared to be based as much pot luck as on reality.”
“The residents of these estates are compliant citizens. In the great many cases they paid their household charge and then found out they were cutoff from services regardless. If the estates are unfinished and not being maintained surely they cannot be held liable for the property tax. I look forward to the Minister’s response and hope that logic and fairness will see these estates, and others like them, exempted” concluded James.
Fianna Fáil’s local representative for Naas area, James Lawless, has hit out at the unfairness of the government’s budget measures and said families and older people will really feel the pinch from this month on with severe cutbacks now kicking in from 1st January onwards.
“Already in the first child benefit payment of the year, families will have started feeling the pain from the latest set of cuts as families are being punished for the government’s failure to deliver a fair budget. Whilst the highest income earners were spared any extra taxation, the young and the old are being punished instead. Kildare families are already stretched with the cost of commuting and public transport, childcare, mortgages and now the government wants to hit them again with child benefits cuts and a property tax” said James.
“Older people are also taking a disproportionate hit with heating, fuel and telephone allowances slashed when many are already struggling to cope” continued James. James cited independent commentators to support his claims and said that ““It doesn’t have to be this way –Michael McGrath has produced a credible and costed alternative budget achieving the same savings in a far fairer manner. Also too, many independent observers have condemned the two Fine Gael / Labour budgets as being the most unfair packages delivered since the start of the recession. For all that Brian Lenihan’s budgets were hard hitting they were acknowledged as progressive where those that earned the most paid the most. The new government have been the complete opposite and from the ESRI to Vincent Brown to even some of the government’s own backbenchers, it is now widely acknowledged that Fine Gael / Labour have turned their back on progressive, fair approaches and preferred the soft option of targeting the lower earners and the least well off for their cutbacks”.
“People have a high degree of resilience and can put up with certain things provided it is fair” said James. “But they must see a fairness in the approach which is lacking completely from the new cabinet. From broken promises to continual cutbacks to a singular failure to put a progressive stamp on government, this government have lived down to the worst expectations”.
Lights Out - But the Council still want your money for the HHC
Minister Brian Hayes said on The Week in Politics today, 25th November, that a full Property Tax would be introduced in the new year “to fund local services for communities”. Well the Government and every Council around the country better make sure they are actually providing services where they propose to levy the charge or risk the wrath of residents.
Fianna Fáil Area Representative for Naas, James Lawless, has uncovered figures pointing to a shocking disconnect between public services provided by Kildare County Council and those estates exempted from the household charge.
James pursued the issue when he became frustrated that requests for basic street lighting maintenance were going unanswered. “I was aware of a number of estates experiencing difficulty having street lighting serviced and I asked the council for answers” explained James. “I had anecdotal evidence of certain estates being ‘cut off’ from the maintenance regime. In frustration I eventually submitted a freedom of information request to get the full facts. To my shock and great disappointment the response to my FOI requests confirm that Kildare County Council have given instructions that 85 different estates across the county were now to have their public lighting services terminated. These estates were quite literally left in the dark, in terms of lighting but also in terms of information. I find this completely unacceptable” James stated. “There are affected estates from Caragh to Celbridge from Sallins to Suncroft. This is an issue right across the county”.
“While Kildare County Council have instructed that these 85 estates be cutoff from lighting services, meanwhile not even half that number were granted exemption status against the household charge tax. The exemption is supposed to apply to unfinished estates – on the one hand we are being told the cutoff estates are not finished and will no longer be serviced by the council – on the other hand we are being told they do not qualify as unfinished as far as the tax is concerned and they are considered liable to pay the household charge – to pay for local services which they do not even receive”.
“The decision is not even consistent – some estates not taken in charge continue to receive service whilst others in the same boat have been cutoff. A handful of the cutoff estates have received exemptions but the vast majority have not. In most cases they are being asked pay their household charge but simultaneously told as far as council maintenance goes the estate is unfinished. It makes no sense” claimed James.
“I have asked the council to justify their decision and I appeal to them to reverse it, I have also spoken to my party colleague Seán O’Fearghaill TD who is raising it directly with the Department”. “The council cannot have it both ways” James concluded – “They either consider these estates unfinished in which case they grant household charge exemptions immediately to all 85 affected estates. Or else they collect the charge but resume service provision. They cannot take the peoples money with one hand and cut off their services with the other. It is illogical, inconsistent and unfair and I am not finished with this by a long way” concluded James.
Fianna Fáil’s Naas Area Representative, James Lawless, has urged the government to act now without further delay and tackle the escalating cost of petrol which is crippling families and businesses across the country.
“The price of fuel again reaches record highs this week as families return to school and the weekly round trip of school-run, children’s activities and all that goes with family life. Families have told me they can no longer afford even those standard activities trying to run a regular family car on current fuel prices” stated James.
“The government have sat on their hands and allowed the situation escalate to crisis point. For every litre of petrol sold almost a euro of that is taken in by the government in taxes. Meanwhile they have twice rejected Fianna Fáil proposals to make even modest cuts to the price of fuel in both April and again in August of this year when Fianna Fáil tabled legislation before Leinster House to reduce fuel excise duties” James explained.
“But government policy is counter productive; fuel tax revenues actually fell this year for the second year running as motorists are being hammered again and just cannot take any more; disposable incomes are disappearing out the exhaust pipe with knock on effects for the whole wider economy as everyone suffers from less to go round”.
“The exorbitant cost of fuel is hitting every single household in the country and is discouraging tourists from travelling through Ireland not to mention the direct cost hitting every business. You don’t even need to take my word for it: As Conor Faughnan of the AA said last week ‘The motorist is being used and abused by the government’”.
“If Fine Gael and Labour could just put aside party politics and accept the Fianna Fáil proposals, the Government could take a simple step that would immediately reduce the price of petrol at the pumps. I am calling for immediate action before the situation escalates any further than it has already” concluded James.