Belfast Telegraph

Meeting over utility bill tax bid

Environment Minister Phil Hogan is to meet the Data Protection Commissioner to allay his fears about the use of utility bills for the collection of the new household charge.

Commissioner Billy Hawkes said he was disturbed by proposals for the Government to use information from the likes of ESB to identify householders who have not paid the 100 euro levy.

But a Government spokesman has insisted that such access would be in relation to whether a property is connected to an energy supplier, as opposed to obtaining detailed personal information.

"We'll meet with the Commissioner and see what his difficulties are in relation to whether it is the details on bills or the issue of supply that concerns him," said the spokesman. "We will meet as soon as possible to resolve this matter."

Suggestions that the Government could track individuals refusing to pay the levy using utility bills emerged in December.

But the spokesman said there would be no breach of data protection.

"It's not a case of going back and looking at people's bills," the spokesman went on. "Local authorities would have access to details in relation to usage, not bills, to be able to pinpoint whether there was, say, an electricity supply to a property."

Mr Hawkes told RTE legislation that allows the Government to access information on householders from commercial businesses was a disturbing development.

"When you sign up with ESB for your electricity bill, you don't expect that the state will be asking the ESB about you," said Mr Hawkes. "This is a somewhat disturbing development, I think an extension of the power of the state to gather information from, if you like, other than state agencies like Revenue. We certainly are concerned about it."

The Environment Minister also thanked the 10,000 householders who have so far signed up to the levy, which came into effect on New Year's Day and has already raised one million euro.

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