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Top 7.7% of earners now paying more than half all income tax and USC, report finds

Parliamentary Budget Office highlights significant concentration risk at heart of income tax system

The top 7.7 per cent of earners in Ireland accounted for more than 54 per cent of the income tax paid to the State in 2021, according to a new report.

In its spring economic commentary, the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) said policymakers here should be aware of “the significant concentration risk” present in the public finances.

It highlighted that the top 7.7 per cent of tax units (those earning more than €100,000) accounted for 54.1 per cent of income tax and universal social charge (USC) payments in 2021.

The report also noted multinational employees, who constitute 35 per cent of corporate employment, contributed to 55 per cent of employment-related income tax and USC receipts in 2022.

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The concentration risk was also evident in corporation tax receipts, with the top 10 corporate groups accounting for 60 per cent of receipts in 2022 and 56 per cent in 2023, it said.

The Government has been repeatedly warned not to use corporate tax receipts for day-to-day spending because of the concentration risk.

The PBO’s report noted that corporation tax was forecast to yield the exchequer €24.5 billion this year, €25.6 billion in 2025 and €24.7 billion in 2026.

“While corporation tax receipts are forecast to grow again in 2027, a reduction is expected for 2026 due to the impact of Pillar One [of the OECD-led global tax reforms],” it said. “This highlights the potential volatility of these receipts and further underlines the risk of overreliance on corporation tax receipts.”

The PBO’s report said multinational activity had provided “a very substantial boost” to the Irish public finances, not only through corporation tax receipts but also benefiting other tax heads such as income tax and VAT.

“As a result, saving windfall receipts and allocating public spending strategically, for example, by addressing key infrastructural bottlenecks while also implementing structural reforms would be a prudent strategy for Government to help maintain the competitiveness of the Irish economy,” it said.

More generally, the PBO’s report noted that while the Irish economy was “in a relatively balanced position” and was on a disinflationary path, it was vulnerable to global trade disruptions and domestic supply constraints.

“Medium-term structural changes due to decarbonisation, demographic changes, digitalisation and deglobalisation add to the uncertainty,” it said.

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times