Limerick City and County Council was accused of acting illegally by Sinn Fein Deputy Dessie Ellis by deciding to add a charge of approximately €87 to the rents of its tenants in order to recoup the cost of the Local Property Tax (LPT) it must pay on its social housing stock.
Speaking in the Dáil he said this practice, although common in the private market, strictly, is illegal, he said.
“It is wrong of the council to do this, but it must pay its bill, which is the real problem,” he said. “The taxing of social housing by the Government, through the local property tax, is the real problem.
“This is a decision made by the Government which cannot hide behind the council which is trying balance its books - its legacy after years of austerity - and now facing a tax on its housing stock. Given the Government’s recent pronouncements on housing provision, a tax on social housing seems to be counter-productive.”
In response, Minister of State for Housing Paudie Coffey said the Government has decided to make local authorities liable for the Local Property Tax (LPT) in order that local authority tenants would be treated in the same way as tenants in the private sector in which landlords may pass on the cost of the tax to tenants in the form of increased rents, if they so wish.
Thus, he said the Finance (Local Property Tax) Act 2012 provides that local authorities are liable to pay LPT in respect of dwellings that they own, other than dwellings that accommodate persons with special housing needs.
Under the Act, chargeable local authority residential properties are deemed to be in the lowest valuation band until 2016, at least, and the annual LPT liability is €100 per local authority dwelling.
He said housing authorities are responsible, under section 58 of the Housing Act 1966, for determining the rents of their dwellings, subject to relating rent levels to household income and requiring low income households to pay a lower proportion of income in rent.
“Within these parameters, it is a matter for housing authorities to ensure their rental income reflects, as far as practicable, the cost of managing and maintaining their housing stock,” he said.
“Section 58 of the 1966 Act does not empower councils to levy a specific charge on tenants in respect of LPT. However, under the enactment, they may set rents at levels that will generate funds to pay for expenses relating to their tenanted accommodation, including their LPT liability.
“It is entirely a matter for housing authorities to decide if they wish to do this and the Minister has no function in the matter. It would not be appropriate, therefore, for me to comment on the manner in which individual councils, including Limerick City and County Council, exercise their statutory rent functions.”
Increased Budget to provide 1700 teachers and SNAs – O’Sullivan
The last Budget included an increase in spending on education for the first time in recent years, amounting to additional funding of €60 million during 2015, Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan told the Dáil.
This funding, she said, will be used to provide 1,700 additional teachers and Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) for our schools as well as to fund prioritised reforms, such as implementation of the literacy and numeracy strategy, reform of junior cycle and the introduction of education focused pre-school inspections.
It was not possible to secure also the funding which would have been required to change the staffing schedule for primary schools, including small schools.
“Since becoming Minister each of the education partners I have met have indicated their own set of priorities,” she said.
“In the school sector, these priorities include school leadership, pay restoration, reductions in pupil-teacher ratios, increases to capitation and the restoration of ex-quota guidance counsellors in schools.”
Outside of the schools sector, she said the list of demands includes funding of third level, investment in early years and investment in technology. “It is not, and never will be, possible to satisfy all the demands of the education system at one time,” she said. “However, I am determined that education should be prioritised for investment as our economy recovers. In my discussions with the various stakeholders in education, I will seek to agree a set of priorities for such increased investment into the future.”