Rules for specific debts

Introduction

There are certain rules and practices covering specific debts. These debts are:

  • Debts that are owed to the State or to a State body and relate to statutory charges and levies (that means charges set by law)
  • Debts to providers of essential services, such as utility companies
  • Debts due to statutory obligations, such as the obligation to pay maintenance to spouses and children

The Civil Debt (Procedures) Act 2015 will change the arrangements how civil debt is enforced. It has not yet come into effect.

Taxes and charges

In general, you are expected to pay your taxes on time and in full. If you do not do this, Revenue has a range of options for collecting the tax due.

Prosecution

If you do not pay your tax on time, you may be prosecuted and convicted of an offence. This may lead to a fine or imprisonment (or both). The level of fine and length of imprisonment vary according to the seriousness of the different offences. Regardless of the outcome of the prosecution, you must still repay the underpayment.

The main ways in which Revenue collects overdue taxes from individuals are:

  • Phased payment arrangements
  • Collection by Sheriff
  • Court action
  • Attachment of a debt

Phased payment arrangements

If you owe money to Revenue for unpaid taxes, you may be able to agree a repayment arrangement. In general, interest applies to any late taxes and so you have to pay this as well. In some cases, you may also have to pay penalties.

If you are paying income tax through Pay As You Earn (PAYE) and you underpay in a particular year, you may be able to pay the amount due by having your tax credits in a following year reduced. In general, interest is not applied to these repayments.

In other cases where you have not paid or have underpaid your tax, you may be able to agree a phased payment arrangement. In general, you will have to pay interest as well as the amount owed.

Collection by Sheriff

If you get a final demand for the payment of any taxes due and you do not respond, Revenue can take action. It can refer your case to the Sheriff for to enforce the debt. It is not necessary to have a court order.

The Sheriff is given a warrant, which is legal authority to enforce collection of Revenue debts, if necessary, by seizing goods. A warrant is valid for 12 months. However, if the Sheriff does not collect any of the debt within 6 months, the certificate must be returned to Revenue. The Sheriff has the authority to negotiate a payment arrangement, with you. The repayment arrangement must be for 2 years or less.

Once your case has gone to the Sheriff, you must then deal with the Sheriff. You are no longer able to deal with Revenue officials. Revenue Sheriffs are officers of the courts and are responsible to the courts. There is a Code of Practice for Revenue Sheriffs (pdf).

Court action

Revenue has contracts with several firms of solicitors to help enforce Revenue debts. They are involved in taking cases through the courts. If the court grants a judgment order, it is enforced in the normal way.

Attachment of a debt

Revenue has specific powers of attachment of debt, which can be used without a court order. Read more about how this works.

Local Property Tax

If you are a liable person for Local Property Tax (LPT) and you do not make a return, Revenue’s estimate will become payable by default. A liable person means the person responsible for paying. Revenue will then collect the amount due in the normal ways, such as deduction at source or attachment order.

If Revenue cannot collect the amount of LPT due, then a charge will be put on your property. You will not be able to sell your property without paying the accumulated tax together with interest and, penalties (if applicable).

Read more about the Local Property Tax.

Household Charge

A Household Charge of €100 was charged on residential property in 2012. If you owned a property in 2012 and did not pay the Household Charge due on it by 1 July 2013, the Local Property Tax in respect of the property was increased by €200. The arrears were converted into LPT, to be collected through the LPT system and pursued by Revenue. Interest and penalties under the LPT system will apply to the additional €200.

Non-principal private residence (second home) charge

If you owned a second residence in any year between 2009 and 2013 inclusive, you had to pay the Non-Principal Private Residence (NPPR) charge.

Late payment fees and penalties applied if you did not pay the charge by the liability date each year. If you were liable for the full period and did not pay (or agree terms) by 31 August 2014, you now owe a total of €7,230 on the property. Any unpaid charges or unpaid late payment fees remain as a charge on the property and must be paid if it is sold or passed on through inheritance.

Social welfare overpayments and maintenance

Social welfare overpayments

In general, if you have received money from the Department of Social Protection that you should not have received, you must repay it. . This is the case whether the overpayment was a result of fraud or through a mistake by you or by the Department.

Read more about how the Department deals with social welfare overpayments.

Maintenance

If a parent, spouse or civil partner falls behind with maintenance payments due under a maintenance order, you can apply to the court for an attachment of earnings order. If the person is in employment or on a private pension their employer will deduct the maintenance amount from their wage or salary. If the person is self-employed, you can apply for an enforcement order.

If the person lives abroad, you can contact the Central Authority for Maintenance Recovery. You will need to provide the person’s address.

Read more in our document on Maintenance orders and agreements.

Local authority arrears

Rent arrears

If you fall behind in your local authority rent, the local authority must follow detailed guidelines for dealing with arrears. Some local authority rent schemes may allow for a rent reduction in cases of hardship.

If you do not pay your rent, you can be:

  • Charged interest at a rate of 6% on the arrears as long as they remain unpaid
  • Issued with notice to quit (eviction), followed by repossession of your home
  • Made ineligible for further social housing support

Read more about how local authorities deal with rent arrears.

Local authority loan arrears

If you have a loan from a local authority and you are having difficulty making your repayments, you may be able to make an arrangement with the local authority. Local authorities must follow detailed guidelines (pdf) on how to deal with arrears. These guidelines are based on the Central Bank's Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears (pdf).

If you do not pay your arrears, you can:

  • Be charged interest at a rate of 6% on the arrears as long as they remain unpaid
  • Face your home being repossessed
  • Be ineligible for further social housing support

Read more on housing.gov.ie.

Waste and utility charges

Waste charges

If you have unpaid charges due to your refuse collection operator the operator may take court proceedings against you for the payment as a simple contract debt. They can take you to court if you have not paid within 2 months of the due date and you are not eligible for a waiver.

Read more about waste charges.

Utilities: electricity, gas, water

Suppliers of electricity, gas and water must have codes of practice for dealing with customers who have difficulties paying their bills and build up arrears of payments. This requirement is set out by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) under it's Supplier Handbook (pdf). Each supplier must publish these codes of practice – you can check on the websites of your electricity supplier, your gas supplier and Irish Water.

If you are having difficulty paying your utility bills, it is very important to contact your supplier as soon as possible. Your supplier may agree to one of the following options:

  • Setting up a budget plan
  • Spreading your payments across the year
  • Installing a pre-paid meter or using a pre-paid card

Read more about gas, electricity and water charges and regulation of utilities.

TV and dog licences

TV licences

You must pay your TV licence to An Post.

An Post keeps a database of every premises which should have a TV licence. The database is regularly updated.

If you have not paid your TV licence, you may receive a notice from An Post to warn you that you could be prosecuted if you do not buy a TV licence. You are given 28 days to pay. An Post may serve you with a fixed payment notice if you have still not paid after receiving 2 notifications.

You now have 21 days in which to buy your TV licence and pay the fixed penalty fee. The penalty fee is capped at one-third of the licence fee.

If you do not buy your TV licence and pay the fixed penalty fee, you may be prosecuted in the District Court. It is an offence not to have a TV licence if you have a TV set. If convicted, you could be fined €1,000 for a first offence and €2,000 for subsequent offences. An Post may look for judgment for the outstanding payments as a simple contract debt.

Dog licences

If you have a dog over 4 months old, you must have a dog licence. If you do not have a licence for your dog, you could face an 'on-the-spot' fine. If you do not pay this fine you can be prosecuted. If convicted, you could be fined up to €2,500 or up to 3 months' imprisonment (or both).

The debt may be collected as a simple contract debt.

Read more about control of dogs.

Collection of court fines

The Fines (Payments and Recovery) Act 2014 introduced some new features to how court fines are treated. These include the possibility of paying a fine by instalments or of having a fine treated and enforced as a civil debt.

All court fines over €100 can now be paid by instalments, though you can still chose to repay in a single payment.

The following applies:

  • Once-off payment of a fine: You can choose to pay through An Post or else pay the Courts Service directly.
  • Paying by instalments: You can only pay through An Post. You pay in 13 instalments. The first instalment is 10% of the amount of the fine and the next 12 instalments are each 7.5% of the amount of the fine.

There are strict timelines if you pay in instalments:

  • The first instalment must be paid 42 days from the date the fine was imposed
  • The second instalment must be paid within 72 days from the date the fine was imposed
  • The third instalment must be paid within 30 days of the due date of the second instalment
  • Each of the next 9 instalments must be paid within 30 days of the due date of the previous instalments
  • The 13th and final instalment must be paid within 35 days of the due date of the previous (12th) instalment

The Courts Service accepts cash, cheques, bank drafts or postal money orders. If you are paying through An Post, you can use one of these methods or choose to pay by credit card or debit card. An Post will accept payments by phone or over the internet, as well as in post offices.

If you do not pay a fine, you can be brought back to court. The judge may:

  • Make an attachment order or a recovery order, to collect the money from you directly
  • Order you to do Community Service.

If none of these options is appropriate, or if you do not comply with a Community Service Order, you may be sent to prison.

The law governing this is the Fines (Payments and Recovery) Act 2014 (Section 6) Regulations 2016. You can read more about the fines payment system.

Page edited: 16 October 2020