The government will publicly name properties in tax arrears before moving to repossess them. Photo: Graham Tidy
The ACT's tax tsar is poised to "name and shame" tax dodgers unless they begin clearing their debts immediately.
The radical step will pave the way for even tougher action, allowing the government to sell properties owned by people who persistently fail to pay rates and land tax.
In many cases, the threat to publish property details and enforce a sale promotes the settlement of the debt.Revenue Commissioner Kim Salisbury
Revenue Commissioner Kim Salisbury said that, early next month, he would begin using his statutory power to publish the details of properties in arrears.
Shadow treasurer Brendan Smyth has urged caution. Photo: Karleen Minney
He has never previously invoked the power, though former commissioner Graeme Dobell did so twice over the past decade, naming 10 houses and units in 2005 and 2008.
However, Mr Salisbury plans to name considerably more: 16 properties next month, followed by another 25 soon afterwards.
ACT Treasurer Andrew Barr backed the commissioner's campaign, but shadow treasurer Brendan Smyth urged Mr Salisbury to be "very cautious in his use of this power".
"It's a very, very big step to be taking," Mr Smyth said. "We certainly need people to pay their taxes and their fees and charges on time, but history would show that using this power judiciously is a good thing."
The Revenue Office is limiting its present campaign to property investors rather than owner-occupiers.
Mr Salisbury said his office tried to help people manage their tax debts, especially those in financial hardship, and reminded them regularly when they fell further into arrears.
But he had decided the threat of a forced sale was necessary in some cases.
ACT rates and land tax legislation allows the office to publicly identify housing and land for which taxes are more than a year in arrears.
If the owners still haven't cleared the debt a year after being named, the government can apply to take over and sell the property.
Mr Salisbury said: "The primary intention of this action is not to sell the properties but to recover the arrears where other debt-recovery actions have proven unsuccessful.
"In many cases, the threat to publish property details and enforce a sale promotes the settlement of the debt.
"However, from time to time, it is necessary to follow through by publishing property details and, on occasion, applying to the courts to have a property sold to recover the debt." The commissioner said selling property was a last resort but it was important that taxpayers met their obligations.
"Taxes form an important part of funding for important community services, such as education, health and safety," he said.
The Treasurer, Mr Barr, supported Mr Salisbury's plan, saying it was "appropriate that in some circumstances the commissioner needs to pursue this avenue in order to assist in recovering long-term debts".
All Canberra home owners pay rates though only investors who rent out a property pay land tax.
The amount of tax owed depends on a property's value; a typical ACT household was required to pay about $1500 to $2000 in rates this financial year, and more for land tax.