Yesterday Minister Phil Hogan announced the unfinished estates that will be exempt from the local property tax (LPT).  In total, 421 developments consisting of 5,100 households will be exempt (the full list can be found here).  This is significantly different to the number of estates (1,322) and households (43,000) that were exempt from the household charge.  Hogan argues that over the past year “The number of properties eligible for a waiver reflects the progress made in tackling unfinished housing developments, as well as the more objective approach to categorisation applied to the 2012 National Housing Development Survey.”

The press release gives no specific information on how the 421 estates were chosen, but we know from the property tax legislation and answers by Michael Noonan in the Dail on 3rd February that:

“Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government must satisfy himself or herself that the development in question is incomplete to a substantial extent. Examples of the criteria that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government should take into account in such a determination include the state of completion of roads, footpaths, lighting facilities, water and sewerage facilities within the development as well as compliance with the terms of any planning permission applicable to the development and the extent to which roads, open spaces, car parks, sewers, water mains, drains or other public facilities in the development have been taken in charge by the local authority concerned. These criteria are set out in section 10 of the Finance (Local Property Tax) Act 2012.”

In other words, the 421 estates are those that the Minister deems to have major outstanding development work.** [I’ve spoken to someone in the Department of Environment and have more info on how the estates/parts of estates were selected – see Addendum below]

So, the questions is: Has there been significant progress on unfinished estates that would mean that 901 estates and 38,000 households that were exempt from the household charge are no longer exempt?

Just four months ago in November 2012 the Department of Environment published a report on unfinished estates that stated: “1100 of these or parts thereof are in a seriously problematic condition.” ** [again, see addendum below]  Of the 1,770 unfinished estates (statistically adjusted down from 2,876 by changing their definition) only 252 (8.5%) are active.  There are 16,881 units are vacant and 17,032 units are under-construction.

Site Resolution Plans, funded by a €5m fund, basically tidy-up estates and try to make them safe and secure.  It is not used to do major development work such finishing roads, paths, lighting, sewage, water, etc.

It is therefore difficult to believe that there has been such major development work on unfinished estates over the past year that would move them out of the ‘seriously problematic condition’.

My sense then is the Minister Hogan is going to get a number of challenges from residents who were previously exempt, who may well have paid large stamp duty payments for the privelege of living on an unfinished development, who would like greater clarity as to how the 421 estates were chosen and why their estate is no longer exempt.  It will also be interesting to see how many units affected with pyrite he makes exempt.  Based on what has happened with unfinished estates I suspect there will be a similar attempt to minimize those that qualify.

Addendum

For the household charge exemptions were given to all residents in category 3 and 4 estates regardless of the condition of the house and environs and the services they received.  For the local property tax an assessment was made of all units as to whether they have decent roads, lighting infrastructure, paving, sewage and water, and access to the usual services supplied by the local authority.  If a unit has those services and facilities then they have been deemed liable for the property tax in the same way as all other households have been.  The 901 estates and parts of estates that have dropped off the list either have all those services/facilities or they are fenced-off building sites in which no-one lives (thus seriously problematical, but unoccupied), so no-one is therefore liable.  The 421 remaining estates are those where residents do experience problems with services and facilities.

Rob Kitchin

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