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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 175 to 186
 Header Item Fuel Laundering
 Header Item European Stability Mechanism
 Header Item Tax Collection
 Header Item Property Taxation Administration
 Header Item Tax Reliefs Eligibility
 Header Item Pensions Legislation
 Header Item Property Taxation Collection
 Header Item VAT Rate Reductions
 Header Item An Fhoireann Rannach
 Header Item Cycle to Work Scheme Administration
 Header Item National Debt
 Header Item VAT Exemptions

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 861 No. 1

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Written Answers Nos. 175 to 186

Fuel Laundering

 175. Deputy Michelle Mulherin Information on Michelle Mulherin Zoom on Michelle Mulherin asked the Minister for Finance Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan the test the State Laboratory uses to establish the illegal component used in petrol such as to leave a residue of carbon on the piston and thus causing damage to engines by contaminated fuel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46938/14]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan I am informed by the State Laboratory that petrol consists of a range of different hydrocarbons and other components and must comply with certain physical and chemical specifications such as density, distillation characteristics and other fuel quality parameters.  The State Laboratory does not use just one test to establish whether a petrol sample meets the required specifications but uses a range of tests to detect fuel fraud and to check that suspect petrol samples submitted for analysis meet relevant fuel quality specifications.

European Stability Mechanism

 176. Deputy Michael McGrath Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan the amount of money Ireland is transferring to the ESM in 2014; the amount expected in 2015; Ireland's total financial commitment to the fund; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46971/14]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan The ESM Treaty entered into force on 27 September 2012, in accordance with Article 48.1 of the ESM Treaty. The European Stability Mechanism Acts 2012 and 2014 provide for Ireland's membership of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and payments into it. The capital structure of the ESM, which is set out in the ESM Treaty, provides for a total capital subscription of €700 billion, of which €80 billion is paid-in capital, with the remaining €620 billion being callable capital.

Ireland's share of the ESM's total capital subscription is €11.1454 billion. Ireland's share of the paid in capital is €1.27376 billion and this was paid in five equal tranches of €254.752 million two tranches were paid in 2012, a further two tranches were paid in 2013.  The final tranche of paid in capital, amounting to €254.752 million was paid in April of this year.

Tax Collection

 177. Deputy Pat Rabbitte Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte asked the Minister for Finance Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan if he will reconcile the apparently low income and corporate tax take, €1.15 million for 2012, the maximum possible tax take based on €700,000 in income tax-related profits and €6.4 million in corporation tax-related profits, from a multi-million euro thoroughbred breeding industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46984/14]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan The figures stated in my reply to Questions 157 to 160 on 18 November 2014 relate to profits earned from the provision of stallion stud services carried out in the course of a trade during the years 2008 to 2012 inclusive.  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that these amounts may not include gains from the sale of stallions, nor does it include profits earned from the provision of stallion stud services that are owned by syndicates as these are not regarded as having been earned in the course of a trade.  It is not possible to state the amount of any profits associated with these activities as they are not separately captured on tax returns.

Regarding the apparent mis-match between the level of tax paid and the fact that thoroughbred breeding is a significant industry in the State, there are a number of factors to be considered that make it difficult to extrapolate expected tax payments from the reported level of activity in the same way as might be feasible for other more mainstream economic activities.

Firstly as I pointed out in my previous reply, stallion related profits or gains are aggregated by taxpayers with all other incomes for the purposes of Income and Corporation Tax calculations and taxpayers can avail of a variety of different deductions and reliefs, which affect the final tax liability. The profit figures declared may also be reduced by capital allowances or losses to which that taxpayer may be entitled.  Secondly, previous independent reviews of the stallion sector confirmed that the sector is capital intensive and requires significant on-going investment with profits made normally re-invested to produce new stock.  It is also a fact that a large number of stallions are not successful at stud and it is likely that the uncertainty of the breeding business impacts the bottom-line profits made.  Thirdly, the short nomination life and the uncertainty of success in the industry are recognised by the fact that an annual 25% of the initial value of each stallion can be deducted for tax purposes.

I am informed that based on the latest data produced by Horse Racing Ireland in their "Factbook 2013" there were 206 stallions at stud in 2013.

The Deputy will be aware that significant economic activity in the thoroughbred industry is also generated from broodmare breeding operations.  By way of comparison, based on the latest data produced by Horse Racing Ireland in "Factbook 2013", there were 12,643 mares at stud in 2013.

Profits associated with this aspect of the thoroughbred industry were not included in the figures provided in my previous reply as the questions related to stallions.  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that profit figures in connection with broodmares cannot be provided as they are not separately identified on tax returns nor were profits from this activity previously exempt from tax.

Consequently, given the range of variables associated with the stallions industry and the fact that the profits from a number of activities within the thoroughbred breeding sector are not separately identifiable, it is not appropriate for me to comment on the quantum of tax payments from the sector.

Property Taxation Administration

 178. Deputy Michael Creed Information on Michael Creed Zoom on Michael Creed asked the Minister for Finance Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan the amount paid by the Revenue Commissioners to An Post for collection of property tax; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47136/14]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan I am advised by Revenue that it does not pay a fee to An Post, or to any of the payment service providers (PSPs) that are 'approved' for the collection of Local Property Tax (LPT).

The four approved PSPs are An Post, Payzone, Omnivend and Paypoint. The use of such third party entities is provided for by Section 122 of the Finance (Local Property Tax) Act 2012 (as amended).

Revenue has confirmed to me that each of the PSPs sets its own service administration fees and the Commissioners play no role in this regard. For the Deputy's information, An Post charges €1 per transaction, Payzone charges 75 cent per transaction for payments up to €50, €1 per transaction for payments between €50.01 and €100 and €2 per transaction for payments over €100, Omnivend charges a fee of 4% per transaction and PayPoint charges 75 cents per transaction.

Tax Reliefs Eligibility

 179. Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor Information on Mary Mitchell O'Connor Zoom on Mary Mitchell O'Connor asked the Minister for Finance Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan the reason if a person is referred by their general practitioner to another medical professional for counselling and acupuncture, who is a member of a recognised body of therapists, that this is not allowable for tax; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47147/14]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan Tax relief in respect of health expenses is allowed in accordance with the provisions of section 469 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997.  In order to qualify for relief, an individual must show that he or she has incurred "health expenses" for the provision of "health care".  For the purposes of section 469, "health care" means "the prevention, diagnosis, alleviation or treatment of an ailment, injury, infirmity, defect or disability", and "health expenses" includes the cost of treatment necessarily incurred in connection with the services of a "practitioner". A "practitioner" is defined as a person who is

1. registered in the register established under section 43 of the Medical Practitioners Act 2007, or

2. registered in the register established under section 26 of the Dentists Act 1985.

  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that in the case in question, relief could not be allowed under section 469 because the counsellor/psychotherapist and acupuncturist who provided the services to the taxpayer are not so registered.

  Further information in relation to medical expenses relief can be found on the Revenue website at
http://www.revenue.ie/en/tax/it/leaflets/it6.html.

Pensions Legislation

 180. Deputy John Browne Information on John Browne Zoom on John Browne asked the Minister for Finance Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the current Revenue Commissioners rules regarding pension schemes allow a married couple where both are employed outside the home to accrue total pension benefits of €4 million, whereas a married couple where only one spouse is working outside the home can only accumulate funds of €2 million; his views on an EU survey showing that the pensions gender gap is 35% and the way this discrimination meets the commitment in the statement of Government priorities 2014-2016 to address the gender gap in pensions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47155/14]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan I assume that the €2 million figure and the multiple of that figure in the question are referring to the Standard Fund Threshold (SFT).

At the outset I should make clear that it is pensions tax legislation and not Revenue rules that provides for the limit or ceiling on the total capital value of tax-relieved pension benefits that an individual can draw down in their lifetime from all of their supplementary pension arrangements. This is known as the Standard Fund Threshold or SFT and was introduced by the Finance Act 2006, with effect from 7 December 2005, and amended since (most recently in Finance (No 2) Act 2013 which, among other things, reduced the SFT from €2.3 million to €2 million from 1 January 2014).

A higher limit, known as a Personal Fund Threshold or PFT, may be claimed where the capital value of an individual's pension benefits exceeded the SFT on the date of its introduction or on the dates of its subsequent reduction.

The SFT regime was introduced, and subsequently amended, mainly to deal with the abuse of the tax-relief arrangements for pensions, which resulted in pension overfunding by individuals and to place a constraint on the cost to the Exchequer of tax relief for pension saving. The regime deals with these issues at the point of pension drawdown in retirement rather than by applying restrictions to pension savings or accrual upfront.

There is no restriction or limit on the contributions that an individual can make to his or her pension savings on an ongoing basis (other than the standard earnings and age-related percentage limits that determine the annual level of tax-relieved contributions that can be made by an individual). As regards restricting  the level of pension benefits, in the case of occupational pension schemes, statutory rules in relation to tax relief restrict the maximum pension benefits payable under both defined benefit and defined contribution schemes to a pension of two-thirds of pre-retirement earnings, taking account of any benefits paid as retirement lump sums. This funding restriction does not apply to the personal pension plans (e.g. Personal Retirement Savings Accounts) of individuals who are self-employed or in non-pensionable employment for practical reasons. The SFT regime, on the other hand, does apply to all supplementary pension arrangements whether employer sponsored pension schemes or personal pension plans and across both the private and the public sector.

The SFT regime does not in itself, however, impose an actual restriction on the level of pension benefits. Instead, a significant tax charge is imposed on the capital value of retirement benefits above the SFT or PFT, as appropriate, when they are drawn down. In this way, the SFT regime acts to discourage the building up of large pension funds in the first place or unwinds the tax advantage of funding for benefits above the SFT or PFT limits by clawing back, through the significant tax charge, the tax relief granted.

The SFT has relevance and potential application only to individuals who are funding for or accruing pension benefits in pension saving arrangements approved by the Revenue Commissioners and who have relevant earnings out of which contributions to such arrangements are, or are capable of being, tax-relieved or tax subsidized. It has no direct application or relevance to individuals or taxpayers who are not in this position. Moreover, since the SFT operates as a limit or threshold at a relatively high value and only impacts when that threshold (or the higher PFT limit, if applicable) is exceeded, the funding for or accrual of pension benefits by the vast majority of individuals in pension saving arrangements are unaffected by the SFT regime.

Within the confines of its application as described, however, the SFT regime makes no distinction between individual taxpayers based on gender so that the Deputy's references to discrimination on these grounds is not understood.

Property Taxation Collection

 181. Deputy Terence Flanagan Information on Terence Flanagan Zoom on Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Finance Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan the position regarding local property tax in respect of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 5; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47183/14]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan I am advised by Revenue that the person to whom the Deputy refers in his Question is meeting his Local Property Tax (LPT) obligations through the Deduction at Source (DaS) payment method in respect of the property mentioned and there is no question of any penalties or interest being applied.

By way of background information in respect of penalties, Part 14 of the Finance (Local Property Tax) Act 2012 (as amended) outlines the various circumstances in which Revenue may impose a penalty in respect of LPT. For example, where a liable person does not submit/amend the statutory Return as required by Revenue or knowingly makes a false statement for the purposes of reducing the liability, then a penalty to the value of the correct LPT amount, subject to a maximum of €3,000, may apply.

In regard to interest charges in respect of the late payment and non-payment of LPT, Section 149 of the Finance (Local Property Tax) Act 2012 (as amended) provides for a charge at the rate of 0.0219% per day or 8% per annum on a 'simple interest' basis. The only exception to the application of this rate is where a property owner opts for a deferral of the liability as provided for in Part 12 of the Act, in such circumstances the interest rate is 4% per annum.

VAT Rate Reductions

 182. Deputy Brendan Ryan Information on Brendan Ryan Zoom on Brendan Ryan asked the Minister for Finance Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan the steps he has taken to ensure that the tourism and hospitality sector is passing on the 9% VAT rate directly to consumers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47227/14]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan The 9% Vat rate has been broadly welcomed by the tourism and hospitality industry since its introduction as part of the Jobs Initiative.

I indicated in my Budget speech that the 9% VAT rate will remain under review and have made it clear to the sector that if the reduced rate is not passed onto consumers, I will revisit the case for its retention. For ease of reference, I have included an excerpt from my Budget day speech:

"The reduced 9% rate of VAT on tourism related activities has been a great success and there are now an extra twenty three thousand employed in the sector since mid-2011.

This initiative is delivering and I am retaining the 9% VAT rate for these services. In the light of reports of rising prices in this sector, it is incumbent on the industry to ensure that this relief continues to be passed through fully to the consumer. However, let me be very clear, the taxpayer cannot be the only stakeholder keeping costs down in the sector. If prices begin to rise, the case for retaining the measure diminishes."

When I originally announced the Jobs Initiative in 2011, I made it clear that the effects of the VAT reduction would be reviewed before Budget 2013 to ensure that it encouraged employment in the affected sectors. This analysis of the VAT rate reduction, carried out by my Department, looked at the rate of pass through to final consumers and the employment effects. It demonstrated that prices in the basket of goods and services covered by the Jobs Initiative had fallen by 1.5% between June 2011 and June 2012. This is compared to inflation of 0.3% for non-Jobs Initiative goods and services even after removing the effects of rising energy prices.  My Department will continue to monitor developments in this regard.

In addition to presenting evidence on the pass through of the VAT rate reduction the paper also noted evidence of job growth as a result of the policy. The 'accommodation and food services' sector of the economy (which accounts for 70% of the Jobs Initiative basket) experienced employment growth of nearly 6% over the period June 2011 to June 2012. This is compared to a fall in employment of 3% in the services sector (excluding the public sector). While it cannot be known with certainty what the true impact of the VAT rate reduction was this research suggests that the VAT rate reduction had the desired effect on prices and employment.

An Fhoireann Rannach

 183. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív den Aire Airgeadais Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan cén líon daoine atá ag obair ina Roinn faoi láthair atá inniúil ar a chuid nó a cuid oibre a dhéanamh trí Ghaeilge; cén céatadán den fhoireann atá i gceist; comparáid a dhéanamh idir na figiúirí sin agus na figiúirí céanna in 2004, 1994, 1984 agus 1974 [47286/14]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan The Department is aware of its obligations under Section 11 of the Official Languages Act 2003.  This Department has set out its obligations as part of our Irish Languages Scheme 2014-2017.

  There are no records available of those with a proficiency in Irish for the years 1974, 1984, 1994 or 2004.

  Please note that a Language and Qualifications survey was carried out during 2014 which indicated that 7 members of staff have some proficiency in Irish.  This represents some 2.3% of the current staff compliment of the Department.

  An earlier survey within the Department revealed that in 2013 a total of 15 members of staff dealt with written correspondence in Irish and 2 dealt with telephone calls in Irish, totalling 17 staff or 5.3% of the total staffing numbers.  While most dealt with only a few items (11 staff dealt with 3 or fewer items), one member of staff dealt with more than 9 instances of written correspondence during 2013.  In addition, 3 items of Ministerial correspondence were received and answered in Irish during 2013.

  In 2009, there were 49 people who had a proficiency in Irish representing 8% of the staff.  Please note that there were 612 staff in the Department of Finance, at that time, before the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform was formaly set up.

  As part of the 2014-2017 Irish Languages Scheme within this Department, the Department plans to carry out the following activities:

  Services that the Department Provides Bilingually

  Generally the Department does not provide services directly to the public but where there is a need for translation and Divisions do not have a member of staff proficient in Irish, or where such a person is not available, a designated member of staff from another Division will provide a service in Irish where required.

  Means of Communicating with the Public/Information to the Public

In conjunction with this new Irish Language Scheme, the Department is updating its Customer Service Action Plan and Customer Charter.   The revised Charter will continue to reflect the principles of Quality Customer Service and in this way ensure that persons who wish to conduct their business through Irish are facilitated as much as possible.

  Correspondence

  All correspondence (letters, phone calls, requests) received in Irish will continue to be logged to allow for monitoring of demand and will be responded to in Irish.

  In addition to fulfilling the legal obligation to reply in Irish to correspondence received in Irish, the Department will strive to correspond in Irish with those who are known to prefer correspondence in Irish. Standard messages on the Department's e-mail system, such as disclaimers of responsibility, will be both in Irish and English. Staff will be encouraged to provide automatic out of office messages in Irish and English.

  Department Website and Computer Systems

  While a limited version of this website is available in Irish, it will be enhanced and developed to have at least 25% of documents made available in Irish and in addition to the provision of static content, the Department will continue to build on the Irish language content on its website.

  Speeches

  Speeches or statements, given by the Minister in the Oireachtas or elsewhere as well as made by senior officials will continue to be made in the language in which they are delivered.

  Official Invitations

  The Department will ensure that invitations to official functions hosted by the Minster or Ministers for State are printed bilingually.

  Publications

  The Department produces a range of publications from various policy areas. The Department undertakes to provide bilingual versions of core publications (major policy statements, strategies etc.) preferably within the same cover (either hard copy or electronic publications). It is not the intention to publish bilingually all technical documents or those having a small circulation.

  Under Section 10 of the Official Languages Act 2003, the Department publishes the following documents in both Irish and English:

- Documents setting out public policy,

- Annual Report,

- Audited Accounts,

- Statement of Strategy,

- Documents of major public importance.

The Department also publishes the following documents in both Irish and English:

- Annual Appropriation Accounts,

- Budget (summary of Budget Measures),

- Finance Accounts,

- Irish Language Scheme,

- Legislation,

- Medium Term Economic Strategy,

- White Paper on Estimates of Receipts and Expenditure.

  Oral Announcements/Telephone Communications with the Public

  In line with the principles of Quality Customer Service, the Department continues to ensure that the switchboard operators and receptionists, who are the first point of contact with the public, give:

- The name of the Department in Irish and English,

- Are familiar with basic greetings in Irish,

- Put members of the public in contact without delay with whatever offices or officer is responsible for offering services required through Irish.

  Press Releases

  Over the period of the Irish Language Scheme 2014-2017 the Department intends to issue 30% of press releases bilingually.  Where possible press releases in Irish will issue at the same time as English language ones but where this is not possible, Irish language versions will be provided on the website within 24 hours.

  Meetings

  It is the policy of the Department that, when warranted, staff proficient in Irish will continue to be provided when meeting Irish language organisations where sufficient notice is given.

  Learning and Development

  The Department includes Irish language awareness as part of the Induction training course, to ensure that staff understand their bilingual obligations under the Official Languages Act 2003.

  Seachtain na Gaeilge

  The Department is committed to promoting cultural initiatives which support and encourages the use of the Irish language. In this way, the Department supports activities organised during Seachtain na Gaeilge and will seek advice from Irish language bodies in this respect.

Cycle to Work Scheme Administration

 184. Deputy Timmy Dooley Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Finance Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan his views on proposals to extend the cycle to work scheme to the children of participants of the scheme in order to increase child cycling levels and increase the modal share of cycling nationally in the long term. [47301/14]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan The Cycle to Work scheme is essentially an environmental measure. It was introduced on that basis to help lower carbon emissions, reduce traffic congestion, encourage more employees to cycle to work and also to help improve health and fitness levels.

However, as children tend to receive bicycles from their parents there is a concern that such an extension to the scheme would become a subsidy towards purchases which would happen anyway and would therefore drive up bicycle prices, as subsidies tend to do. In addition, any subsidy to the children of parents who are in employment could be seen as discriminatory.

Finally, as Minister for Finance I must be conscious that the introduction or expansion of any scheme creates a cost and that cost must be recovered elsewhere. It was estimated at the time of the introduction of the scheme that approximately 7,000 employees would avail of it over the first five-year period of its operation. However anecdotal evidence would suggest that the scheme has been considerably more successful than this.

I am not in a position at this point, therefore, to consider extending the scheme as the Deputy suggests and I have no plans to do so.

National Debt

 185. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Finance Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan the size of the national debt at the end of 2010; the size of the debt at the end of 2013; its current size; the reason for the increase in the debt; the debt GDP ratios on the three dates; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47307/14]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan General government debt is a measure of the total gross consolidated debt of the State and is the measure used for comparative purposes throughout the European Union. As such, this response focuses primarily on general government debt. According to the Central Statistics Office (CSO), general government debt at end-2010 and end-2013 stood at €144.2 billion and €215.6 billion respectively.  Budget 2015 projected end-2014 general government debt at €203.2 billion.

201020132014f
General Government Debt (€bn)144.2215.6203.2
General Government Debt (% GDP)87.4123.3110.5
Source: CSO, Department of Finance (all data presented under ESA 2010 methodology).

  The primary reason for the increase in debt over the period is the borrowing undertaken to fund the Exchequer deficit.  The cumulative deficit for the period 2011 to 2014 is approximately €59.2bn, taking account of the forecast Exchequer deficit of €7.9bn for this year.

  The Deputy should note that the drop in the nominal debt between the end of 2013 and the end-2014 forecast relates to changes required by the introduction of ESA 2010 (European System of Accounts) in 2014.  Under ESA 2010, IBRC was reclassified as being within general government as of July 2011 and its debt was consolidated into general government debt.  The end-2013 figure reflects these amounts.  However, the successful liquidation of IBRC has meant that the relevant debt has been reduced.  An estimated €1 billion of the forecast end-2014 general government debt does relate to IBRC but this is expected to be largely resolved in 2015.

VAT Exemptions

 186. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Finance Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan if he will introduce a measure whereby mountain rescue teams will be able to reclaim VAT paid on necessary equipment for their work as long as they provide their services free of charge; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47308/14]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan VAT law is governed by the EU VAT Directive, with which Irish VAT law must comply.  The EU VAT Directive does not makes provision for a VAT exemption for the purchase of mountain rescue equipment, and as such an exemption cannot be granted under Irish law. Only persons who charge VAT on their economic activity are entitled to claim VAT on their business inputs. Where mountain rescue teams provide their services free of charge, this does not change the VAT treatment of equipment they purchase.


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