The numbers going to jail over in relation to unpaid TV licence fines is higher than ever.
Some 194 people were sent to prison last year for non-payment of TV licence fines, compared to 31 in 2006 at the height of the boom.
The majority of those sent to jail were women, the Irish Prison Service confirmed. Females accounted for 121 of those sent down, while the remaining 73 were men.
Figures show that 25 people a day are now being sent to prison for not paying court fines.
A spokeswoman also expressed concern that women, the primary carer for children, make up the biggest number of those imprisoned for failing to pay fines related to TV licences.
“It is over two years since the Fines Act 2010 was signed into law and the Courts ICT system still hasn’t received the upgrade necessary to process payment of fines by instalment,” the IPRT said.
New legislation on this would be of little effect “unless this system is put in place with urgency.”
Figures show that 4,470 people were imprisoned for non-payment of fines and debts in the first six months of the year, compared to 7,514 in 2011. This compares with 1,335 just five years ago in 2007.
It urged that the minimum of €100 for eligibility for payment of a fine by instalment be removed.
The trust also said it had reservations about the admin charge of up to 10pc to be imposed on those who opt to pay by instalment.
The IPRT recently called on Justice Minister Alan Shatter to consider making use of the right of pardon and and the power to commute or remit punishment – with one suggestion an amnesty for some or all fines defaulters to ease pressure on strained prison resources.
The fact that more women are being imprisoned for failure to pay fines was of “serious concern,” it said.
Out of 1,680 women committed to prison last year, 1,300 were for non payment of court ordered fines.
Last year, 16,000 court summonses for not having a TV licence were processed in the first nine months of 2011. About 7,000 cases ended up in court.
FAMILIES are facing a €10 cut in child benefit and medical card holders will see a doubling of the charges they pay for prescription drugs in next week’s Budget.
Pensioners are also still in the firing line, with changes to the over-70s medical card and the home package of free TV licence, electricity and telephone allowances still on the table.
Although the pension is safe, the rest of the benefits for the elderly have yet to be decided upon by ministers.
The Cabinet met twice yesterday to work through the health and social-welfare aspects of the budget, with another special meeting tomorrow evening.
Among the swingeing measures to emerge from the discussions are:
* A €10-a-month cut in child benefit, which will drop from €140 to €130.
* A cut to the time for which non-means-tested dole is paid from 12 months to nine months.
* A doubling of the 50 cent charge that medical card holders pay for medicines and other items that they get on prescription from pharmacies, up to a maximum of 10 items per month.
And further details have emerged about the property tax, which will come into effect next year, following yesterday’s revelations of the plan in the Irish Independent.
* Elderly people will be given the chance to pay the property tax on their home from beyond the grave
* People living in council houses are expected to be hit with higher rents – with rises of €1 or €2 a week to bring in €50-€100 a year per house.
The Government has devised a way of protecting old people who live in large houses where they raised their children and who now can’t afford to pay the property tax from their meagre pensions.
Rather than forcing them to borrow or sell their home, elderly people will be able to apply via a means test for a deferral of the property-tax payment. However, there will be a cap on the number of years that can be deferred.
Similar to the Fair Deal nursing-home scheme, the accumulated bill would then be paid when the person sells their house or if they pass away, when their estate would pay it off.
Although local-authority housing will be exempt from the property tax, the occupants will have to make a larger contribution to take account of the charge going to local services.
Those in council estates who bought out their houses will have to pay the full property tax anyway, so the Government wants to see every home make a contribution.
The property-tax rate will be at 0.2pc in a self-assessment system, with bands starting at €50,000 and going up by €50,000 each time.
There is no cap on the market value of the home, so millionaires living in mansions will pay the same percentage on the total value of their house.
Someone living in a house worth €100,000 will pay up to €200, while someone living in a house worth €1m will pay up to €2,000.
The amount of tax to be paid is set at the mid-point of the bands. For instance, where the value of the house falls anywhere within the band of €100,000 to €150,000, the homeowner will pay on 0.2pc of €125,000 i.e. €250.
A special meeting of the Cabinet yesterday saw the detail of the health and social-welfare budgets thrashed out.
Any changes to the medical-card system are not yet signed off. But the over-70s are being closely examined, especially the means-testing threshold of €72,000 for a married couple and €36,000 for a single person.
A move towards a GP-only card is being examined for those on healthy pensions. The pension will not be cut and the free travel scheme is not expected to be touched. But a cut to the package of free TV licence, electricity and phone is still alive.
There will be a change to the entitlement to the dole. When someone becomes unemployed, they go onto the non-means tested dole, unemployment benefit, of €188 a week.
After 12 months, they move to the means-tested payment of the same amount. However, if another member of their family is working, this can put them over the means-test limit.
This period will be cut back to nine months to encourage people to get back to work.
But Labour Party sources believe this will not have a major effect on its policy not to cut welfare benefits. Party figures claim it is not a direct cut to a core social welfare payment.
– Fionnan Sheahan and Fiach Kelly