Law Society objects to proposed unpaid water charges collection

The Law Society of Ireland has written to Minister of Environment, Community & Local Government Alan Kelly to voice its strong objections to the proposed means of collecting unpaid water charges when a property is sold.

President of the Law Society Kevin O’Higgins explains, “The Law Society’s concern is that the proposed system of collecting unpaid water charges will result in significant delays and may also increase costs to both buyers and sellers of property.”

“Every charge on property that is introduced by legislation is another block in the road to a sale of a property. Sales may be significantly delayed and may even fall through as a result of these proposals. Additional costs and new delays are the exact opposite of what the Government has stated it intends to achieve to facilitate the efficient transfer of property.”

In the letter to Minister Kelly, Kevin O’Higgins said, “The Law Society of Ireland is not taking a position against water charges. However, we are increasingly concerned about having yet another responsibility for tax collection being placed on the shoulders of solicitors and adding to increased delays and expense for consumers.”

“The proposed Government Amendment 44 to the Environmental (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014 will require that solicitors expend time and effort corresponding with Irish Water in relation to service charges.”

The amendment is scheduled to go before the Dail for a vote on Wednesday.

Kevin O’Higgins, said, “Since 2009, three new statutory charges have been introduced by the Department of Environment, Community & Local Government including Non-Principal Private Residence Charge (NPPR), Household Charge (HC), and Local Property Tax (LPT).”

“Any charge on a seller’s title to property must be cleared off the title before a property can be sold – whether this is the seller’s mortgage or whether it is a statutory charge such as unpaid NPPR, HC or LPT. The performance of other statutory authorities in furnishing their own Certificates of Discharge, does not give us confidence that Irish Water will fare better. 

Meeting urgently requested

The Law Society has urged Minister Kelly to meet with representatives of the Law Society to hear practitioner feedback on the amendments to ensure there are no unintended consequences when the legislation is enacted. For that reason, the Society has urged that the amendment be withdrawn to allow for such discussions.

For example, Kevin O’Higgins explained one such recommendation would relate to subsection 10 of the amendment. “Subsection 10 states there is no time limit for Irish Water to provide the information needed other than it is to be provided “without undue delay”. Given that the certificate or statement will be needed during the sale transaction there should be a time limit of not more than five working days for this information to be furnished.”

“This amendment has been introduced without any consultation or engagement with the Law Society. As representatives of the solicitors’ profession, and thus a key stakeholder, the lack of notice or consultation goes against best practice of policy making. Furthermore, it confirms that Government regards the conveyancing process as a tax collection mechanism.”

“We fear this legislation is being rushed and sufficient time has not been given to consider its consequences for consumers and their solicitors.”