NI rate debt soars to £160m

NI rate debt soars to £160m

Concerns have been raised over the level of rate debt in Northern Ireland, with the latest report showing that the figure has almost doubled in the last five years - rising from £88m to £160m.

Stormont's Public Accounts Committee has recognised the difficulties posed by the recession, but added that all options must be explored to help those ratepayers in arrears pay their debt.

While £160m is now owed, a further £53m has been written off in the last few years.

Land & Property Services (LPS), which is responsible for rate collection, has also been facing a number of related challenges - including the time it takes to carry out property valuations.

The PAC's report also found that some alterations to domestic property bills were taking more than two years to complete, and that LPS had no owner details for nearly 20,000 vacant properties.

Rate bills for empty homes were introduced in October 2011, but bills can't be issued if the owners are not known.

It is essential that that those paying rates are not subsidising those avoiding paying their rates.

Michaela Boyle, PAC

Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Sinn Féin MLA Michaela Boyle, said it was important that the rate burden was "shared equitably".

She added: "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."

Concerns have also been raised over the level of fraud and error in housing benefit administered by LPS, which Ms Boyle said was "significantly higher" than for some other social security benefits.

"The figure of £4.2m included in the 2010-11 financial statements is truly shocking," she said.

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."


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