Northern Ireland Assembly
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Rates Debt Rises To £160 Million

A new Report from the Assembly Public Accounts Committee has raised concerns that the level of rate debt has almost doubled in the last five years rising from £88 million in 2006-07 to £160 million in 2011-12. A further £53 million has been written off since 2008-09.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Michaela Boyle MLA, said: “The Committee recognises that the recent recession has made recovering rate debt more difficult. In these challenging economic times, Land & Property Services (LPS) which is responsible for ensuring that rates are collected, must explore all ways to help ratepayers in arrears pay their debt.”

The Committee’s Report found that recovering debt is not the only problem for LPS. The Report shows that the number of properties waiting for valuation at the end of March 2012 remained at over 26,000 and some alterations to domestic properties were taking more than two years to process. The Report also found that at the time of the introduction of the Rating of Empty Homes in October 2011 LPS did not know ownership details for nearly 10,000 vacant properties which were then becoming newly liable for rates; without such details no bill can be issued.

Ms Boyle continued: “It is also important that the rate burden must be shared equitably. We see that the delays in making rate assessments can result in people paying too little or too much. This is of particular concern to small businesses, which are currently facing more financial pressures. It is essential that that those paying rates are not subsidising those avoiding paying their rates.

“We are also concerned that the level of fraud and error in housing benefit administered by LPS is significantly higher than for some other social security benefits - the figure of £4.2 million included in the 2010-11 financial statements is truly shocking.” 

Ms Boyle concluded: “LPS faces many challenges in the next few years. Welfare reform, non-domestic revaluation and the Review of Public Administration will all affect its operation. A previous PAC report, published in November 2008, found that LPS experienced significant difficulties when major reforms last took place; if LPS is to meet the new challenges it will need to be better prepared.”

Notes to Editors:

1. Land & Property Services is responsible for the billing and collection of rates on approximately 840,000 properties in Northern Ireland.  Over £1 billion was raised in rates revenue in 2011-12.

2. The Report also found that Land & Property Services has not done enough to validate rate reliefs and discharges which were in excess of £190 million in 2011-12. The Committee accepts that Land & Property Services is working with 14 of the 26 Councils and this has played an important role in verifying the accuracy of non-domestic vacancy rate reliefs awarded and believes that this type of co-operation with Land & Property Services should be extended to all Councils as quickly as possible.

3. The Public Accounts Committee last reported on the financial and operational difficulties at Land and Property Services in November 2008. 

The full Committee report can be accessed on the Northern Ireland Assembly website via the following

The current membership of the Public Accounts Committee is:

Ms Michaela Boyle (Chairperson)
Mr John Dallat (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Sydney Anderson
Mr Trevor Clarke
Mr Michael Copeland
Mr Paul Girvan
Mr Ross Hussey
Mr Daithi McKay
Mr Mitchel McLaughlin
Mr Adrian McQuillan
Mr Sean Rogers

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