Bedrooms: A taxing affair in cuckoo land

Patricia Feehily


Patricia Feehily

Bedrooms: A taxing affair in cuckoo land

A bedroom tax could simplify the current and some say unfair Local Property Tax

I THOUGHT I heard the cuckoo today, although someone who was with me at the time, instantly dismissed my sudden outburst of seasonal optimism and said that what I was listening to sounded more like a lovesick wood pigeon.

I thought I heard the cuckoo last week too when calls for the introduction of a bedroom tax on all properties, public and private, started to reverberate around the land. Then someone told me I must have been dreaming because the cuckoo isn’t in to bedrooms, or nests either, for that matter. And anyway, they claimed, the bird is extinct.

I’m the only one left in cuckoo land, it seems.

Anyway, did you ever hear the likes? A bedroom tax! I thought we were all vehemently opposed to taxes of any kind now, and that everything had become a human right, free gratis. Admittedly, I felt a bit like that myself until I met a couple of guys who were high as kites on large doses of people power. (I know! I’m worse than Enda for meeting people on the street with a story.)

Anyhow, these were real people and they asked me if I had ever been in the Dail. Sure, I said. Who hasn’t? But there was no taking the wind out of their sails. They proceeded to inform me that they had a whale of a time the week before, having been wined and dined in Leinster House, courtesy of a certain deputy. “Who paid for that?” I screeched, in a righteous high treble that almost shattered my larynx.

’Twas all free,” one of them calmly enlightened me.

But if everything is free, why on earth would we be trying to burden ourselves with another tax, especially when we’ve just fought off the water tax notion? Suddenly, out of the blue, it’s the height of respectability to be an over-taxed tax payer.

Now I have no idea what a bedroom tax might entail. I presume it has nothing at all to do with what goes on in the bedroom, because even the Revenue couldn’t measure that. And I would hope it has nothing to do with our sleeping habits either, because half the time I’m unconscious and the other half is spent grappling with nightmares and insoluble problems. Actually I haven’t had a good night’s sleep since I heard about the trip to the Dail, and whether I should get a waiver for sleep deprivation under a bedroom tax, or not, is debatable.

On the other hand, if it meant a tax on the number of bedrooms in a house over and above requirements, and if it replaced the current inequitable and unfair property tax, I’d welcome it with open arms. Some houses I know have seven or eight bedrooms, including a spacious boudoir they refer to - with hang-ups from the crowded past no doubt - as ‘the box room’. They pay more or less the same property tax as I do for my James Tully style bungalow where the maximum number of bedrooms allowed in order to qualify for a grant, was four. But some of the seven or eight- bedroomed houses have nine or ten bathrooms. So maybe, if we want to raise money for the exchequer in a more equitable way, as well as conserving valuable water, maybe we should introduce a bathroom tax. And a wall-paper tax while we’re at it, because wall paper is making a comeback in modern interior design. In the 18th century a wall-paper tax helped to produce massive funds for an English war effort.

What I can’t understand, however, is why we all lay down and accepted our own property tax so meekly, seeing that it didn’t even reflect a house owner’s ability to pay, not to talk of the size or condition of his house. People power must have been asleep in the master bedroom when it was happening. The rest of us, who might have taken on the county councils, lost our nerve completely when Revenue took over the collection of the levy. Now the inequity, like the widow’s mite, doesn’t even cost us a night’s sleep.

You’d think though that our tribal instincts would kick in and we’d be infuriated by the different rates of PLT that apply in different counties. Limerick city and county are particularly hard done by, having, along with Galway, to pay 10 per cent more in property tax this year than the rest of us, while Dublin gets a 15 per cent reduction. I wouldn’t mind if all the money collected was being used locally and we could see clearly how it was being spent. But apparently only 65 per cent of it goes to the relevant Local Authority, while 35 per cent is diverted to a central fund, from which, you can bet your bottom dollar, Dublin will get the cream.

But back to the bedroom tax! We didn’t think this up ourselves, of course. A bedroom tax, of sorts, already exists in Great Britain and in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately it applies only to public housing and affects only the poor and vulnerable who are expected to squeeze themselves into the smallest spaces imaginable – two kids under 16 of the same gender share a bedroom while two kids under 12, regardless of gender, must also share a bedroom. Otherwise they’ll be levied. But surely we have more enlightened social consciences and wouldn’t dream of making the less well-off pay for the luxuries of the affluent, would we?

So I’m all for a bedroom tax then, so long as it’s fair and equitable, and especially if it replaces the current property tax. I’d be all for a window tax too, except that my forebears had to block up their windows and install a half-door in order to outwit the local landlord and keep typhus at bay. Naturally the idea doesn’t sit comfortably with me.

A hearth tax or chimney tax might be more acceptable. I read somewhere an account of the Hearth Money Rolls for Tipperary in the late 17th century and saw that one of my forebears had to fork out two shillings for one fireplace, while the Earl of Exeter had 70 hearths in his house and had to pay 140 shillings, a fortune in those days, even for an Earl.

Now, that’s what I’d call a fair property tax.