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Household charge just thin end of the wedge

Story by Tom Kelly

Wednesday, 4th April, 2012 12:30pm

Household charge just thin end of the wedge

Local authorities - as the vehicles for delivering public services locally - deserve to be properly financed by central government irrespective of the payment rates of the new household charge.

The whole process of introducing the new charge and ringfencing the proceeds for local government (designed to replace the Local Government Fund) was manipulative to say the least and unfair on county councils. The electorate are being guilt tripped by the government into paying the fee - if they don't pay it, local services will suffer.

Cavan County Council, for example, has stated publicly that the budget for road maintenance in County Cavan will be hit if the charges are not paid.

There is even talk that county councils with lower compliance rates may be penalised when it comes to funding; while others have suggested that local authority workers will be out knocking on doors to encourage those who have not paid yet to do so.

It would be completely unfair if County Cavan was to suffer because more householders here, who have less disposable income than those for example in areas such as Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, have not paid up.

What seems even more unfair is the notion that rural householders have to pay the charge when they benefit to a far lesser extent from public services such as water, sewerage, footpaths, public lighting etc. As far as road maintenance goes, they pay their road tax and the Local Improvement Scheme (making funding available for private roads and laneways) has been abolished by the government.

There are whole estates in urban areas that are exempt from the charge simply because they are 'technically' unfinished. These are householders who do benefit from public services.

How many mortgage holders are in negative equity - who technically do not even own their house and maybe never will - are also legally obliged to pay up?

Furthermore, the blanket €100 charge (regardless of the size of property or its location) adds to the inequity of the situation. Agree with it or disagree, fair or unfair - the charge is now the law of the land (much like your TV licence fee). And the government has been left with no choice by the Troika. The group has demanded the imposition of a property tax by 2014 and its continued bank rolling of this state is dependant on that, along with a number of other conditions. Certainly the government could have handled the situation better. The introduction of the charge was rushed, information was slow to come through to the householders and the omission of the post office network to facilitate registration and payment of the charge makes no sense.

The real stinger is (and clear from the type of information requested at registration stage) - what the €100 charge is going to turn into between now and 2014? And how will the eventual property charge be decided - on the size of the property, the market value, the number of bedrooms? Even then, will personal factors be taken into account? Somebody may well have a 4,000 sq ft house with six bedrooms but have since lost their job, be in arrears or even negative equity. Will that be taken into account?

In this regard, perhaps some type of income tax would have been fairer all round (then again, who says this isn't on the way as well). One thing is for sure, bank repayments aside, there is a gap of about €20bn a year between what the State is taking in and what it's paying out. A €100 household charge is not going to cut it. There are more austerity measures on the way.

Regardless of how we found ourselves in this mess and whose fault it is; somebody's going to have to pay... eventually.

What do you think?

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