The Malta Independent 20 October 2019, Sunday

An open letter to ARMS, estate agents and the Inland Revenue

Malta Independent Sunday, 15 December 2013, 08:57 Last update: about 6 years ago

I am writing this to inform you that I hold all of you responsible for a terrible injustice. Because of your indifference, inaction and vested interest in keeping the status quo, thousands of people resident in Malta are paying over the odds when it comes to their utility bills. Just to make sure that you know we know, I will describe two common scenarios.

 

Scenario number one

A foreign couple moves to Malta. Most of the foreigners who come to live here are EU nationals and are exercising their right to freedom of movement within the EU. They take a while to settle down, find a job, make friends… and in the meantime they are renting a property. They are bemused to realise that, in most cases, they pay their rent in cash. They are also bemused to discover that the bill for utilities is not in their name and that they, therefore, do not have access to information about their consumption of water and electricity because of the Data Protection Act. 

Initially, they pay a reasonable amount, say €100, on account towards their utility bill. As the months pass, they are asked to pay more money on account. Sometimes they may even be shown an ARMS bill which, notwithstanding their regular payments, shows huge arrears. They see the word ‘domestic’ next to ‘Consumer Scheme’ at the top right-hand corner of the bill, which misleads them into believing that nothing untoward is happening.

The foreigner may never find out that, actually, there is something very wrong. As you all know, there are two tiers of non-commercial utility rates in Malta: ‘Domestic’ rates applicable to the owners of second homes or summer residences and ‘Residential’ rates applicable to anyone resident in Malta. 

Most landlords in Malta do not declare their rental income, which means that most tenants in Malta are living in a “second home” or “summer residence”. And this means that they are paying for their consumption of water and electricity at the extortionate domestic rates.

 

Scenario number two

A Maltese family rents a property because they cannot afford to buy one. They may not understand the two-tier system and so do not understand that they are being billed at the incorrect domestic rate. They live from hand to mouth, trying to keep up with the extortionate bills. I know of one case where the Maltese tenant, in addition to paying domestic rates, was denied access to an annual housing subsidy of €700 because the landlord did not want to leave a paper trail for the Inland Revenue to find out that he had a rent-paying tenant in his “second home”. This tenant has some health issues and has been unemployed for a number of years.

Some of the tenants from scenarios one and two find out about this scam and end up in court in dispute with tax-evading landlords. These landlords, unbelievably, use the Maltese legal system to issue garnishee orders against their tenants when they refuse to pay for their consumption of water and electricity at the incorrect domestic rate.

And just so that I’m sure that you know what a garnishee order means, I’ll spell it out for you: your monthly income may be reduced by about €630 a month when you have a family of five to look after and when your budget is tight enough as it is.

You have no access to a chequebook, so your eight-year-old son has to go to school with €80 in cash to pay the school administration costs. This is just one example of the inconvenience of not having a useable bank account.

You have to cancel outings, treats for your children and holidays for which you have worked hard.

You have to explain to countless faceless people that you cannot afford to pay your loan or credit card or phone bill. Neither can you afford to pay for your children’s football kits or uniform.

So, in conclusion: I hold you responsible, ARMS, because you should ban two-tier utility rates or at the very least bill the tenant directly at the correct residential rate. I hold you responsible, estate agents, because you do not give any information about any of this to your tenants. You just take the money and run.

And I hold you responsible, Inland Revenue, because you hide behind the Data Protection Act, to continue this macabre and twisted injustice.

 

Johanna MacRae

SAN GWANN

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