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Data Protection Commissioner 'concerned' over household charge collection

Billy Hawkes said the State’s possible use of the ESB to gather information to collect the household charge is a “disturbing development”.

The campaign against Household Tax has the support of TDs Mick Wallace and Luke Flanagan
The campaign against Household Tax has the support of TDs Mick Wallace and Luke Flanagan
Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

THE EXTENSION OF the power of the State to gather information from non-State agencies is a “somewhat disturbing development” in Ireland, the Data Protection Commissioner has said this morning.

Speaking to Morning Ireland, Billy Hawkes said his office has concerns about the Government’s suggestion that it could ask the ESB for information to ensure it collects a new household charge from each property in Ireland.

The €100 tax is due to be paid by every homeowner by 31 March. However, there has been a steady stream of anti-charge campaigners calling for people not to pay.

Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan had suggested before Christmas that agencies, such as the ESB, could be used to ensure people comply and shell out the payment.

A spokesperson for the Department of the Environment told TheJournal.ie similar processes were put in place to ensure compliance when the second-house tax was introduced in 2009.

“No data protection issues arose from that,” he said, adding that further clarification is now being sought by the Department.

Included in the Bill

Hawkes confirmed today that it is written into appropriate legislation that the body set up to collect the charge is entitled to get relevant information from such bodies.

“Many people have questioned the extension into the commercial area,” he said. “You don’t expect the State to ask the ESB [for information].”

The Data Protection Commissioner’s concerns over such a move were raised previously when the Government provided for information sharing on the introduction of the second-house tax.

“If there is any such access, it should be for the absolute minimum amount of information – just a name and address,” Hawkes added. “There is a far greater need for discipline in the Government services.”

Two complainants

Those due to pay the tax have been asked to send in a cheque/postal order to the Local Government Management Agency or pay online at www.householdcharge.ie. Online registration has been open since 1 January.

There has already been one complaint about possible deficiencies in the privacy policy of the website.

Hawkes said the issues related to that complaint are regrettable as a short consultation with his office could have avoided such problems.

A second complaint from MEP Paul Murphy claims the website keeps information about a person through drop-down ‘cookies’.

Both complaints are being investigated and the office remains in contact with the Department of the Environment and the ESB, which has duties under Data Protection laws.

Related: Late payment fee warning issued over €100 Household Charge>

Who exactly has to pay the €100 Household Charge?

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