Sunday, March 25, 2012

Collecting the Household Charge

This is an absolute laugh.  Last week, Big Phil Hogan said that he was getting on extremely well with the Data Protection Commissioner.  He went on to say - if I can paraphrase - that should talks break down, notwithstanding their positive current bearing, he would look to legislate in order to get access to home owner address information.  I explained then that such a course of action would likely fall foul of a constitutional reference to the Supreme Court, which if not referred by the President, would have been challenged by any number of campaigners. 

Now we hear that county council workers may be calling door to door to remind people of their obligations. The public service trades unions - a heinous bunch if ever there was one - came out on the Six O'Clock news and said, essentially, that none of their members should participate in this terrible business.  It was bad for the workers (i.e. they should get paid extra if they have to do additional work), and bad for the country, presumably because the union rep on the telly wasn't best pleased with it himself.  It's not clear if the suggestion is to collect the tax, or simply to inform people. But what is certainly clear is that this is all about data protection - the government know all they need to know, they're just not allowed to know it for these purposes.  Hah!

Even though county councils, and local councils, may know the addresses of their people, they are not allowed to know that for the purposes of this tax.  But they can call to people's doors, and presumably in calling to each door inventory those houses that they have called to, by simply walking down the street, and calling to the houses that they see, which is not of course in breach of any law.  Getting into apartment blocks would be fun, of course.

In addition, people can refuse entry.  There is no compulsion to answer the door, nor to speak to them (even to confirm a name) when they do.  The council officials won't be able to write to them because they don't have their addresses (at least for these purposes).  If they could, they'd simply send them a bill - that's why no one is being sent a bill.  Because they don't have your addresses (for these purposes). 

Just now on The Week in Politics, Labour's Joe Costello said that the government will first be chasing people who have registered second homes for the second home tax, because they have a register of those people. I suspect however that it would be equitable to use that information for the purposes of the household charge (as distinct from the second home tax) because the information was clearly gathered in the first instance for taxation purposes.  But I suspect it's also true that they can't use it to chase them down for their primary residences, even if they gave that address as their contact address!  Can you imagine how smiley Big Phil must have been as the Data Protection Commissioner explained this to him (presumably while they were getting on extremely well!!).

In the week that the Mahon Tribunal reported on events of twenty years ago, and when Steve Collins and his family left Ireland because the State could no longer protect them from other lawbreakers, one wonders why it is so difficult to run this country expediently. Other countries tend to have far more effective legal systems where human rights are protected well, but not at the expense of justice.  If the protection of human rights - such as the rights to fair procedures, due process, and good name - results in justice in effect being avoided, then that protection is rendered moot.  We may have the wrong balance in this country, and one suspects - a la Big Phil - that perhaps we have sufficient swagger in government to change that.

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