OVER three hundred businesses in Londonderry owe over £10,000 in rates arrears, the Sentinel can reveal.
SDLP MLA Colm Eastwood requested figures on the number of businesses in the Foyle constituency area with arrears over £10,000 from Finance Minister Sammy Wilson.
The Minister replied: “Information on the number of businesses in the Foyle constituency that have rates arrears over £10,000 is not available as data is collated at District Council and Ward level only. “As at November 30, 2012, rates of over £10,000 remain unpaid for 331 Non-Domestic properties in the Derry District Council Area.”
The Minister has also provided figures on the cost to the public purse of legal fees in relation to rates debt collection over the past three years.
He explained how these legal fees add to the rates burden: “If a ratepayer has not paid their rate bill, or made contact with LPS (Land and Property Services) to agree a payment arrangement after the issue of a bill and a final demand, LPS has little option but to take forward Court proceedings to recover the money owing.
“LPS is obliged to pay fees to the NI Courts and Tribunals Service for the different stages of the legal proceedings, including for issue of a Court Process, the granting of a Court Decree, the issue of a Notice of Intention to Enforce Debt, and Enforcement Fees. These charges are added to ratepayers’ bills, and therefore become part of the recoverable amount.”
He added: “Payments are made to the Courts and Tribunals Service by LPS at the time that the actions are taken and are then recovered from ratepayers in due course. Given the daily movements in individual rate accounts, and the time differences in payment to the Courts and recovery of the money, it is not possible to provide an accurate figure for the net (unrecovered) legal costs in any period.”
The total (gross) paid by LPS to the Courts and Tribunals Service over the course of the past three years stand at £8,377,745, according to Northern Ireland’s Finance Minister.
Mr Wilson added: “In addition, LPS also incurs professional legal costs in relation to cases pursued through the High Court Chancery Division.” The total figure paid by LPS to Crown Solicitor’s Office in relation to such cases over the past three years was £749,196.
The Minister added: “LPS also incurs additional staff costs in pursuing recovery of unpaid rates. These costs form part of the cost of rate collection and are therefore paid from the district and regional rates – in effect, by all ratepayers. I would stress that no recovery costs would exist if all ratepayers paid their rates in a timely manner, or if in difficulty contacted LPS to agree a payment arrangement.”