Dáil Éireann - Volume 481 - 21 October, 1997

Written Answers. - Tax and Social Welfare Codes.

184. Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Finance his views on the fact that common-law couples are treated differently for taxation purposes than married couples under the social welfare code; and if he intends to remedy this in the forthcoming budget. [17150/97]

[1434] Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy): There are no special income tax allowances for unmarried couples living together. In this context, I would point out that tax law follows the general law relating to marriage. The basis on which the married person's tax free allowance — and double rate bands — is given derives from the Supreme Court decision in Murphy vs. the Attorney General (1980) which held that it was contrary to the Constitution for a married couple to pay more tax than two single people living together.

While the social welfare treatment of married and cohabiting couples is primarily a matter for the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, I should explain in the Hyland case in 1989 the Supreme Court held that it was unconstitutional for the relevant social welfare provisions to treat a married couple living together less favourably than an unmarried cohabiting couple. This judgment has been given effect by treating cohabiting couples in the same way as married couples for social welfare purposes.

I am conscious of the difficulties which can arise for cohabiting couples in certain circumstances. An interdepartmental working group has recently been set up under the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs to examine the treatment of married, co-habiting and one-parent households under the tax and social welfare codes. This group is due to report by March 1998.