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Will Ireland's emigrants catch a break on property tax?

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Ireland's Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan,
introduced the new property tax.
In all the time I have lived in Ireland there has never been a property tax. That is all about to change as the government is rolling out a tax on residential property this year.

Irish homeowners will start to see the bills for tax owed on their homes from next month. As you can imagine, no one's all that happy about this.

The biggest losers of course are all those struggling homeowners, the people who took out huge mortgages to  family homes during the boom, have taken substantial pay cuts or even lost their jobs and are now faced with a new tax that will cost them hundreds each year.

I know if you live in America your initial reaction will be something like, "What are they moaning about? I pay $4000 per year." And you'd have a point. However, the American system has a series of taxes - Federal, state, local, - the sum total of which can be substantial, but probably not on a par with what the average Irish person is paying. For example, does anyone in America pay a 23% sales tax? I don't think so.
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It is always difficult comparing tax rates in different countries because there are so many different taxes and what those taxes are supposed to provide is different too. Take my word for it: Irish people pay a lot in taxes, this is a new one and they're not happy about it.

Right now many people are saying they "are not going to pay." Sure many of them are blustering, but the Household Charge that was introduced last year was seen as a precursor to this year's full property tax was ignored by a large percentage of households. Maybe the government will someday catch up with those who refused to pay the Household Charge, but the fact is at the end of December nearly 30% of householders had not paid the tax. No matter how you slice it, that's a significant level of non-compliance.

Unless the government ups its game they can expect at least the same level of non-compliance. So far all we've heard is that they're upping their threats. The head of the Revenue Commissioners recently noted that they had the power to take the money from any non-payer's salary or pension or even bank account. In other words they have you. Unless ...

When I heard those comments the other day the thought struck me that there's one group of homeowners who might slip through the Revenue Commissioners' net: emigrants. I don't know how many there are, but anecdotally there are quite a few. Families, couples and singles who have bought homes have had to leave Ireland and their homes (rented, if they're lucky). There's a good possibility I'm missing something, but from the looks of it right now emigrants might owe the property tax, but it doesn't look like the Revenue Commissioners have any way to force them to pay.

I'd like to think that emigrants will catch a break here. I'd really like to believe the government would waive the property tax for those who have had to leave Ireland due to the dire economic conditions, but if there is one group the government doesn't really care about (ignore those crocodile tears) it is emigrants because they cannot vote. Thanks to that and thanks to the fact that most of them had to leave due to circumstances not of their making I hope they can avoid the property tax. It's the least they deserve.

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