Josephine Feehily

Accountants and tax practitioners recently questioned the Revenue Commissioners over whether they were withholding and delaying refunds due to taxpayers because of the current tight exchequer position.

The Revenue was questioned during a meeting with an industry panel who raised concerns about the "protracted correspondence'' the organisation was engaging in.

The Revenue regularly examines claims for refunds to make sure the recipients have a proper entitlement and the examinations are usually based on an agreed income threshold. Figures show that the Revenue recently analysed up to 28,000 refund claims, of which 12,000 had been submitted to a manual checking process.

Led by chairwoman Josephine Feehily, the Revenue said this process could be slowed because of seasonal peaks, staffing levels and other issues. However, it has now given the matter an "urgent priority''.

Despite this, an industry panel, which holds seven meetings a year with the Revenue on a wide range of issues, queried whether this was an adequate explanation for the delays and hold-ups.

The minutes of a meeting in April, for example, include the following: "Practitioners said that there appears to be a growing incidence of Revenue entering into protracted correspondence with claim­ants in relation to small issues, which results in a delay in the issuing of refunds, where due.''

The practitioners ex­press­ed "the hope'' this was not an intentional policy designed to withhold refunds for exchequer reasons. The Revenue was recorded as saying this was "categorically'' not the case.

The government is currently struggling to hit its 2009 target for tax receipts, but there is also a small and less visible problem of making sure previous years' returns remain broadly intact. The government is expecting to collect about €35.2bn of revenue this year, although disappointing VAT returns may reduce this figure.