Sunday, 8 May 2011

Irish Taxed To The Hilt...

Stealth charges force us to suffer a lifetime of levies.

Whether it's pensions, insurance or just going to the shop, we're all being taxed to the hilt...

STEALTH taxes have us in their icy grip from cradle to grave -- from the €10 to register a birth to the €10 death-certificate charge when we finally leave a life of levies and hidden charges.

At all points between we are bombarded with demands for money from the State and private companies acting at its behest.

There is no escape. All we can do is bend the knee to our revenue-raising overlords and watch as the money we earn, already taxed to the hilt at source, is taxed again and again as it leaves our purse or pocket.

And a range of increased charges is on its way. The levy for sending waste to landfill will more than double between now and 2012. From September -- it will rise from the current €30 per tonne of waste to €50 a tonne, increasing to €65 in July 2012, and €75 in July 2013. Do we really think the private waste companies are not going to pass it on to customers?

The simple act of buying a bottle of cola in a shop on the main street is now a sharp lesson in multiple taxation and charges that would be almost laughable if they weren't such a source of misery to tens of thousands. You work hard for a living and pay income tax on your earnings. Then you are hit with the new, rapacious Universal Social Charge (USC), designed to amalgamate the health and income levies introduced, and then increased substantially, in the last three years.

But the USC is bigger than both original charges combined for the vast majority of workers. Even those on a medical card pay it, albeit at a reduced rate.

The USC is seven per cent on any income higher than €16,016 and is imposed on gross income and, importantly, before deductions for a pension. So many of us are being taxed on the treble before we take home a penny.

Then there's private health insurance, which, in the case of the VHI, has increased more than 100 per cent in the last decade. All this for the right to jump many hospital queues ahead of the less well-off. All private healthcare policies have a standard €205 levy per adult imposed on each policy each year. Most people are completely unaware of this.

Back to our bottle of cola. You drive into a town or village. There is a charge for on-street and off-street parking in almost all urban areas now, or a hefty fine from a private or State-employed warden if you get caught not paying.

And be careful of the speed cameras. The new, harsh regime is looking less and less like a road-safety measure and more and more like a revenue-raising exercise, given the concentration of resources aimed at law-abiding soft targets driving a few kilometres over the speed limit rather than boy racers.

By the time you get to the shop you have already effectively been hit by four taxes -- the USC, income tax and pension levy on the money you have available to buy the cola, and then there's motor tax on the car, parking charges and tax on fuel. A plastic-bag levy of 22c to carry the soft drink home adds to the burden, as does the money you spend to dispose of the plastic bottle in the recycling bin, which makes it a neat half dozen of direct and indirect taxation.

Then there's road tax, which is about to be increased, with Department of Environment officials feverishly working on a review of tax bands likely to result in hikes across the board.

The motor-tax system introduced in 2008, inspired by the Green Party, which allowed drivers of more fuel-efficient cars to pay less tax every year has been deemed too successful, resulting in a fall in revenues.

The bi-annual National Car Test will now be increased to annual €50 tests for vehicles 10 years or older.

And all those increased road-tax charges haven't stopped the massive rise in road toll charges. It now costs €6.50 to drive from the wrong side of the East Link to Galway. Isn't that what our road tax was supposed to pay for? And it is odds-on that toll charges will rise soon.

In the Programme for Government, there is a proposal to introduce a property tax or site-value tax, and the Department of Finance is examining how best to collect more money from householders at a time when tens of thousands are struggling to meet their basic mortgage payments and their utility bills. And water charges are on the way.

Bord Gais announced last week that it was writing off more than €26m in outstanding unpaid bills. About 115,000 people are in arrears for more than two months. In the first three months of this year, around 100,000 ESB customers entered payment plans, agreeing to pay off arrears in instalments.

Airport charges and taxes are other costs of living that have increased substantially in recent years. Day-trippers going to the Heineken Cup final in Cardiff at the end of the month can expect to pay €75 extra because of charges imposed in both Dublin and the Welsh capital as part of their air-ticket price.

The TV licence fee is now €160 a year. Because more and more people are watching television on their computers, Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Minister Pat Rabbitte wants to replace the licence fee with a new household charge. Expect legislation before the summer and we will probably all end up paying more. Now it's even getting too expensive to stay in. The most damnable thing is that those who live their lives with prudence and a degree of parsimony by looking after the more important things in life seem to be hit hardest.

The new levy on private pensions will cost around €500 a year, while the losses at Quinn Insurance will mean we all have to pay an extra levy on all motor and home insurance policies -- likely to be set at between one per cent and two per cent of the premium cost.

There's a three per cent stamp duty, which applies on all non-life insurance policies, and another one per cent levy on all life assurance policies -- including the policies we take out to protect our mortgage.

This is by no means a complete list of the taxes and charges that are killing us by stealth. Perhaps the €10 death certificate charge will come as a blessed relief.

Report by Jerome Reilly - Sunday Independent

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