The collection of rates, and interest due on unpaid rates, are under the care and management of the local authority.
Local councils may appoint rate collectors. Rate collectors are appointed under warrant to fulfil the functions set out in the local government legislation in relation to rate.
The authority is to prepare scheduled of uncollected rates and set out why they were not collected. The Chief executive must prepare a report to elected members. It may publish a list of uncollected rates and ratepayers in a local newspaper.
The fact that the rate collector has been negligent in recovering against the owner does not preclude the right to recover against the owner or subsequent occupier. The owner may be liable if the premises are unoccupied at the date of making the rates. He may also liable as a subsequent occupier, if the premises is vacated.
Rates are a preferential payment to certain extent. See the sections on insolvency. They with other taxes have a certain degree of preference over ordinary unsecured creditors.
Authorised officers of Authority
Local authority staff may be as authorised officers by the Chief Executive for the purposes of the Rates Act. Local authority staff appointed as authorised officers by the Chief Executive with the power to enter rateable property in certain circumstances. An authorised officer may—
- enter at all reasonable times any relevant property and inspect the property,
- at such property, inspect and take copies of, any books, records or other documents (including books, records or documents stored in non-legible form), or extracts therefrom, that he or she finds in the course of his or her inspection,
- remove any such books, documents or records from the property and retain them for such period as he or she reasonably considers to be necessary for the purposes of his or her functions under this Act,
- require any person at the relevant property concerned, including the owner or occupier, to give the authorised officer such information and assistance as the authorised officer may reasonably require for the purposes of his or her functions under this Act.
An authorised officer shall not enter a dwelling, other than with the consent of the occupier, or pursuant to a warrant.
A person shall be guilty of an offence if he or she—
- obstructs or interferes with an authorised officer or a member of the Garda Síochána in the course of exercising a power conferred on him or her or a warrant or impedes the exercise by the authorised officer or member, as the case may be, of such power, or
- fails or refuses to comply with a requirement of an authorised officer or member of the Garda Síochána pursuant to this section, or in purported compliance with such requirement gives information or makes a declaration to the authorised officer or member that he or she knows to be false or misleading in any material respect,
and shall be liable, on summary conviction, to a class A fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or both.
Ordinary Debt Process
Rates also be recovered by ordinary civil process. Local authority may sue for rates in the higher courts as a debt where they are two months in arrears . The rate collector sues in the name of the Council.
Sums of up to €6,325 may be recovered in the District Court. The Circuit Court has unlimited jurisdiction in rates collection cases. The limitation period for rates is six years. The limitation period against the subsequent occupier was formerly two years.
Judgment is an ordinary judgment and may be enforced in the normal ways.
Rates can be recovered by distress which involves the non-judicial seizure of goods. See below. This is not used in practice, given constitutional questions.
A rate payer may appeal against the rate on the grounds that the rate is illegal. The rating authority is entitled to recover rate even if an appeal is pending. If an overcharge is made, it must be refunded.
The District Court and Circuit Court on appeal may determine the matter of appeal and may amend reference to the appellant in the appeal book or vary the sum for which he is rated.
Members of the local authority who do not pay rates may be disqualified from being elected or chosen as a member until they have paid. They may be disqualified from continuing as a councillor.
Rates may be set off against sums due by the local authority to the ratepayer.
The following parts relate to an older procedure which allows for recovery of rates by seising goods (distress). This is not commonly used, and its Constitutional status is suspect.
A 6 day notice is made followed by a complaint to the District Court. The summary procedure should be brought by the rate collector in the name of the rate collector rather than the local authority.
If the payment is not made the District Court may issue a warrant authorising distress and sale of goods of the default or within the county. The warrant issuing on foot of a summary procedure is not sufficient in itself to found a judgment mortgage.
The Council may levy rates by way of distress on foot of a rate summons . There is a right of appeal against a order for non-payment of rates.
Rates Summon Procedure
Where a demand of payment rates has been made and not been satisfied, the rate collector may make apply for summons to the court of summary jurisdiction (District Court) summoning the rate payer to show cause why the rates are not been paid. There are special provisions applicable to service of the summoned, which is civil in nature, but has the characteristics of summary jurisdiction in criminal proceedings.
The judges must consider the matter in a judicial manner. Matters which may be the subject to an appeal against the making of the rates may not be raised. An objection may be available where there is a defect in relation to a matter which the rating authority must prove, including a defect an apparent defect on the face of the rates.
It may be possible to show that that the property is not subject to the rates or that the respondent is not in rateable occupation of the ratepayer. It may be successfully claimed that the property is entitled to an exception from rating either under statutory incentive scheme or as of being in charitable use. It may be shown that it was not demanded on time and is time barred. It may be shown that the rate has already been paid.
The ratepayer’s circumstances is not relevant. There is no discretion to refuse on the basis of hardship. A jointly liable ratepayer cannot resist an order on the basis that others are also liable as jointly in occupation. A defect in a valuation may not generally be challenged.
There is authority in England for the proposition that once there is no valid objection, the justice’s power is ministerial, and he must issue a distress warrant. An order of mandamus may issue to compel the judge to issue the distress warrant in an appropriate case.
Where a person liable to pay rates, does not pay the same six days after demand, the rate collector may give notice, that if the sum is not paid within 14 days, he intends to levy distress. The rate collector may by no further authority other than his general warrant, collect the sum by levying of goods, chattels and animals and their sales.
The rate collector may break open in daytime, any premise to which he is refused admission. He may require assistance from member of An Garda Síochána in exercise of his powers.
Distress taken shall be kept for five days at a pound or otherwise and will be released to the person on payment. Things, goods and animals may be sold by public auction where the rate collector thinks proper. They may be detained in a pound or otherwise pending sales. The proceeds are applied in discharging rates and any balance is paid to the owner.
Distress; Goods Affected
Distress may be levied on the goods of the person assessed or on those of another person liable. The ratepayer need not own all property in the goods. A bill of sale is not protection in respect of the ratepayer’s chattels including it. Similarly an equitable charge on goods does not include it from being taken in execution. However, goods which have been hired may not be taken.
The common law exemptions from distress do not apply to statutory rates for which distress conferred by enactment. Accordingly distress may be levied on working tools in a shop, beast of the plough and animals that graze land. The landlord of premises on which levy is made may not claim arrears rent from the proceeds of distress.
Distress may be levied on the goods of the ratepayer not only in the rating area concerned, but also anywhere in the jurisdiction.
Distress levied by collector must be kept for five days. The cost and charges of keeping may be charged. The person must not pay together with cost and charges within that period, distress may be appraised and sold by public auction, any surplus after deduction of cost and expenses are to be repaid to the owner of the goods concerned.
Committal for Wilful Refusal
If the person executing the warrant does not find sufficient goods on which to distress, an application may be made to the court of summary jurisdiction for the issue of a warrant of commitment. On the issue of the warrant, the judges must inquire it whether in the presence of the ratepayer as to whether failure to pay is due to wilful refusal or culpable neglect. The court may inquire into the means and conduct of the ratepayer. If the ratepayer does not appear in obedience of the summons an order for his arrest may be issued.
After enquiry, if a court of summary jurisdiction is satisfied that failure to pay is not due to wilful refusal or culpable neglect, it may issue a warrant of commitment. Commitment may be for up to three months or unless and until payment is made.