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€900 'fine' for taking kids to school in work vans

SOME drivers are facing a €900 motor tax hike in the latest revenue-gathering exercise by John Gormley.

An official crackdown on the use of commercial 4x4 vehicles and small vans for family and social purposes has been ordered by the Environment Minister.

Local councils have been told to force drivers of commercially taxed vehicles -- which pay a lower rate than normal vehicles -- to legally declare that they will not use them for any social, domestic or pleasure purposes.

Fine Gael denounced the changes as "the last straw" for struggling small business owners. The Automobile Association said the move was "silly and unenforceable".

Owners of 4x4 vehicles and vans pay €288 for commercial motor tax if they claim they use their vehicles for work purposes. But they will have to pay an average of €1,200 if they use the vehicles for family, domestic or pleasure purposes.

The clampdown will come as another blow to small businesses already reeling from new stealth taxes imposed by the Government.

The authorities had noticed an increasing number of vehicles being switched from private to commercial status.

Owners of all commercial 4x4s will now have to sign a new Goods Only Declaration in a garda station. Those caught by gardai using such vehicles for shopping, school runs, or going to the pub or to church will face having to pay fines or even imprisonment.

A new directive, issued a fortnight ago, instructs council motor tax officials to insist that all owners of commercial vehicles sign the revised RF111A declaration.

A spokesman for the minister said: "There has been an increase in people trying to avoid paying motor tax by claiming that the vehicle is used solely for commercial use. People are trying to exploit this tax loophole."

Fine Gael TD Denis Naughten said it was the "final straw" for small businesses that were already "on a tightrope".

"This overnight change is causing chaos and hardship to people who had not planned for such costs," he said.

AA spokesman Conor Faughnan said the directive was "silly". He cited an example: "If a plumber has a van full of tools and uses the same van to go to Mass on Sundays, it is ridiculous to suggest that he pay tax at the higher private rate because he is using it for social purposes.

"This will be extremely difficult to enforce and I quite frankly don't see what good it will do," he added.

Irish Small and Medium Enterprise organisation chief executive Mark Fielding said small businesses were already reeling from the recently introduced carbon tax on fuel.

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