Rates… Non-Payments Cause Stir In Council Chamber

th June), Councillors addressed issues around the non-payment of domestic and business rates. A Council official presented annual accounts to the chamber and explained that there was a deficit of £308,702 in domestic rates and £307,014 in non-domestic (business) rates for the past financial year. Newcastle Councillor Carmel O’Boyle responded saying, “Ordinary ratepayers should not be penalised by people who have not paid their rates. This figure seems to have galloped in the past four years.” Rowallene Councillor William Dick added it as “scandalous of those who won’t pay their rates. We (the Council) are going to have to carry the can. Is there anything that we can do to put the pressure on the Land and Property Service to improve on this.” The Council Chief Executive John Dumigan said that  he  had written to the Minister on this issue. However, Downpatrick Councillor Eamon Mac Midhe said, “There are a lot of poor people out there now. When they have to make a cut it is the rates first and the mortgage second that is cut. Many think that if they are going to go down they may as well not pay it.” It was noted that there was a significant number of people going out of business and this represented a loss of income to the Council. The new Downe Hospital was also now coming on stream to pay rates and in its first full year will have contributed £800,000 to the Council rates.

Record Level Of Rate Income Collected Says LPS

During the past financial year the level of rates collected in Northern Ireland exceeded £1 billion for the first time ever. Land & Property Services (LPS), who collect rates on behalf of central and local government, revealed the figure at a meeting of the Committee for Finance and Personnel today. The increase in rates collected by LPS has enabled much needed extra investment in public services. Describing the figure as evidence that ratepayers were prioritising their household bills in challenging financial times, John Wilkinson, Chief Executive of LPS said, “It is welcome news that we have been able to ensure public services receive the money they are due from rates. “This record collection figure comes despite a 55% increase in the number of businesses going into liquidation last year, and a 19% increase in the number of individuals being declared bankrupt. This demonstrates that despite the tough economic conditions, ratepayers are giving priority to bills which have to be paid. “The increase in rate collection means additional millions will be invested in front-line services such as education, healthcare, roads and district council services from which all residents in Northern Ireland benefit.’’ By working with organisations such as Access to Benefits, Advice NI, Christians Against Poverty and the Housing Rights Service, LPS has encouraged those struggling to pay their rate bill to contact them. In 2010-11 the number of people entering into payment arrangements with LPS increased by over 250% compared with the previous year. Mr Wilkinson said, “When LPS allows ratepayers to pay smaller amounts over a longer period of time, this increases the level of debt. At 31 March 2011 our uncollected debt figure stood at £156 million. This is a reduction of £1 million on the previous year’s debt figure, demonstrating that despite the recession we are continuing to drive down the debt whilst supporting people during this difficult period.” Bob Stronge, Chief Executive Officer of Advice NI, said, “As the economic climate begins to ‘hit hard’, more and more people are being affected by money worries and debt. At Advice NI we understand that the pressure of dealing with debts can leave people feeling stressed and isolated. It is important to get advice as soon as you find yourself in a debt problem. I would urge anyone who is struggling to pay their rate bill to contact our Debt Action NI website http://www.debtaction-ni.net or LPS immediately.” John Wilkinson said, “Following a challenging period for rate collection, it is encouraging to see that the focus we have put on engaging with ratepayers has enabled us to stabilise the system and ensured that we achieved a record level of collection despite the difficult economic environment in which we are operating. “Nevertheless, we continue to pursue those ratepayers who refuse to pay by taking them to court, ensuring honest ratepayers do not end up paying more because of them. Last year we had more than 18,000 court decrees awarded against ratepayers who defaulted on their payments, an increase of 10% on last year. “We would much rather speak to people before court action is necessary and put appropriate payment arrangements in place. But if payments aren’t made and people refuse to contact us, we have no alternative but to pursue them through the courts to ensure public services such as healthcare, education and infrastructure as well as the local services provided by councils receive the money they are due from rates.” Anyone having difficulty paying their rate bill is urged to contact LPS as soon as possible by telephoning 101 (028 9151 3101). Further information on payment options, or the range of rate reliefs that are available, can be found at http://www.nidirect.gov.uk]]>