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 Header Item Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Report Stage (Resumed) (Continued)
 Header Item Non-Use of Motor Vehicles Bill 2013: Order for Second Stage
 Header Item Non-Use of Motor Vehicles Bill 2013: Second Stage

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 800 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White] I am not taking a view that I have been told I have to take. I know Deputy Róisín Shortall and I am quite sure she went through the documentation, the arguments and the issues carefully when she was Minister of State, just as I have done. Ministers are expected to read the documentation - they are paid to do so - rather than simply accepting a line. Of course, advice is available, but I am not here to mouth anybody's line. I take very seriously the job I have been asked to do. I know the Deputy did likewise when she was in the same job. I carefully analyse what I am asked to do in order that I understand it. I ask for the same recognition of what we are doing from my colleagues on the Opposition benches that I give to each and every one of them. I do not for one moment doubt the good faith of Deputies in highlighting this issue, nor do I doubt the genuineness of those involved in the Irish Epilepsy Association who raised it in the first instance.

Debate adjourned.

Non-Use of Motor Vehicles Bill 2013: Order for Second Stage

Bill entitled an Act to provide for declarations of non-use of motor vehicles; for certain payments out of the local government fund; to amend the Finance (Excise Duties) (Vehicles) Act 1952, the Finance (No. 2) Act 1992 and the Local Government Act 1998 and to provide for related matters.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Fergus O'Dowd): Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd I move: "That Second Stage be taken now."

  Question put and agreed to.

Non-Use of Motor Vehicles Bill 2013: Second Stage

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Fergus O'Dowd): Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to open the debate on the Non-Use of Motor Vehicles Bill 2013, the primary purpose of which is to provide for a system of declaring vehicles off the road in advance for motor tax purposes. In other words, we are introducing a prospective system of making off-road declarations. This will close the loophole, whereby owners are able to declare retrospectively and unverifiably that a vehicle has not been in use on the public road. This evasion loophole has allowed many people to take a holiday from paying motor tax, which is unfair to the majority who pay their motor tax conscientiously. For their sake and in the interests of equity in the collection of this tax, the changes contained in the Bill are necessary. The substantive issue being tackled in the legislation is the abuse of the loophole by non-compliant taxpayers. The regime for those who pay their motor tax as intended will not be affected in any way.

Under the existing system, vehicles can be declared off the road retrospectively. The declaration is part of the motor tax renewal form. The owner's signature is witnessed by the Garda Síochána when the applicant next taxes the vehicle after the period for which the vehicle was off the road. Members of the Garda are not required to verify the veracity of the statement made by the owner. I do not doubt that many owners risk driving for a month or two without paying tax. If they are not stopped at a Garda checkpoint, they take the view that they can tell a lie about the car having been off the road and tax it from the start of that month. The current arrangements facilitate this. There is little prospect of getting non-compliant taxpayers to mend their ways as arrangements stand.

The use of such declarations is increasing, with a consequent loss to the local government fund which provides funding for local authorities and the roads programme of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. An analysis of Garda witnessed vehicle licence exemptions in the 12 months to the end of July 2012 showed that 539,000 such declarations were made during the period. The value of the declarations during that period was over €110 million, of which €22 million related to changes of vehicle ownership. The remaining €88 million related to exemptions not linked with change of vehicle ownership, with the majority of such declarations being made for periods of between one and three months. While some declarations are genuine, it is suspected that there is widespread abuse, potentially costing up to €55 million per annum. It is anticipated that implementation of the measures contained in the Bill could increase the income from motor tax by up to this amount, although some residual levels of evasion may remain.

It will be necessary to make provision for genuine periods of non-use of a vehicle, for example, in the cases of people who are ill or working overseas. It is proposed to introduce a system like the statutory off-road notification system used in the United Kingdom. A declaration will only be possible in advance for a specified period. The minimum period will be three months - the same as the minimum taxation period - and the maximum period will be 12 months. The declaration must be made in the month before tax is due to expire. This measure was recommended in the report of the local government efficiency review group. It is the largest single element, in value terms, of the report that falls to be delivered by my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan. It should be noted that the 2011 annual report of the Comptroller and Auditor General contained a chapter highlighting the level of motor tax evasion and recommending that a more robust system than the present one be put in place. The system provided for in the Bill conforms to an important element of the recommendations made by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

I would like to go through some of the specific arrangements proposed. A declaration of non-use must be made in the month before motor tax or an earlier declaration of non-use expires. Owners of new or newly purchased vehicles will have ten days from the date of purchase to furnish a declaration if the vehicle is not to be used immediately. The vehicle can be declared off the road for any period, in whole months, of between three and 12 months. In the month before the declaration expires the owner will receive a renewal notice and can then either tax the vehicle or make a further declaration of non-use, again for a period of between three and 12 months. One can put the vehicle back on the road at any time during the non-use period by taxing it. In such circumstances the non-use declaration will be deemed to have been cancelled. A vehicle may be used during the period of a non-use declaration solely for the purposes of bringing it to or from a test centre, or bringing it to or from premises for repairs when an appointment has been made with an authorised tester after the repairs have been carried out for a subsequent test.

The Bill creates an offence of making a false or misleading non-use declaration with liability to a fine of up to €4,000 and-or six months imprisonment on summary conviction. This will be in addition to the existing penalties for non-display of a valid motor tax disc. While the Bill provides for an administration fee to be prescribed, we do not plan at this moment to prescribe a fee. The emphasis is on ensuring vehicle owners take the opportunity to regularise their affairs. There will be a three month transition period in which to do so. Following that period - the exact date will depend on the progress of the Bill through the Houses of the Oireachtas - it will no longer be possible to make a retrospective declaration of non-use. The Minister intends to widely publicise the proposed changes in the coming months with a view to ensuring motorists are aware of their obligations in this regard.

The Bill also contains provision to make the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport a licensing authority.

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