Family structures throughout Ireland have certainly changed beyond what would have been considered the ‘traditional’ family unit, that of a man and a woman who are both in their first marriage.
There are thousands of what is termed 'cohabiting couples' in Offaly – who are not getting the tax breaks of those enjoyed by married couples.
Although this new family unit is becoming more and more common, in the Dáil recently Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan said, in response to a Private Members Question, that the tax treatment of “different categories of couples, arise from the objective of respecting the Constitutional requirements to protect the institution of marriage”.
He also said that, “any change in the tax treatment of cohabiting couples can only be addressed in the broader context of future social and legal policy development in relation to such couples” and implementing changes to the tax treatment of such couples would be “difficult, intrusive and time-consuming”.
However, Ireland’s leading protection specialist, Royal London believe that perhaps the Government need to give greater thought to making changes – no matter how difficult.
Royal London undertook research to gauge people’s perceptions on some of the emerging issues in relation to the new fluid family unit. Ireland’s leading protection specialist commissioned IReach to conduct a survey of 1,000 people throughout the country of all ages and from a variety of backgrounds to ascertain whether or not they would support a change in the tax treatment of couples who choose not to get married – but who are still in long-term committed cohabiting relationships.
Michelle Murphy, Royal London Broker Consultant in Offaly commented, “As cohabiting couples are, by far, the fastest-growing type of new family unit in Ireland perhaps it’s time that they’re considered within the current tax regime. While the Minister’s position around the complexity of making any alternations to the current tax regime is understandable, our survey shows there would be a lot of public support for change.
What our survey revealed is that a significant majority (79%) of people think couples who choose not to marry but who are in long term committed relationships should be given the same tax treatment as married couples.
Marriage isn’t for everyone and it appears from the results of our study that most people don’t have any issue with a more equitable tax treatment for those who choose not to tie the knot.”
The survey revealed that women (81%), older adults (82%) and those from Connacht/Ulster (82%) are most likely to think long terms couples should have the same tax treatment as married couples. Interestingly, young adults (25%) are most likely to be against the proposal.
Michelle continued, “Ooer the last 20 years the family structure has been through a lot of change. Two of the biggest influencers have been constitutional changes; firstly the removal of the ban on divorce in 1995 and more recently the legalisation of same sex marriage. While these changes have altered what the Irish state regards as a family structure, they have also shaped the make-up of the modern family unit. Today it’s accepted that many couples may choose not to get married and scenarios like living together and having children before marriage have become more common”.
Throughout the country the number of unmarried couples living together long-term, or what the Census describes as ‘cohabiting’ couples, is on the rise. A sizeable portion of these couples have children establishing the ‘cohabiting couple’ as a new family unit.
Michelle continued, “according to the latest CSO statistics, the number of cohabiting couples in Ireland has been on the increase. Figures rose from 77,600 in 2002 to 121,800 in 2006 accounting for 11.6% of all family units, before rising to 143,600 or 12% in 2011. I’d be confident that we’ll see that figure growing even further in the findings of this year’s Census. However the ‘cohabiting couple’ family unit is one which is not yet catered for by Ireland’s tax laws. At the moment, you have to be married or in a civil partnership to be entitled to any tax relief based on your relationship status”.