£30m rates subsidy scheme

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Finance Minister Simon Hamilton has launched a 12-week public consultation on the £30million subsidy scheme for ratepayers under the 11 new councils.

The Executive has set aside the sum to develop a transitional rate relief scheme to mitigate the impact of rates convergence on rate payers who would otherwise face excessive rate bills under merging councils.

Comments can be emailed to ratingpolicy.cfg@dfpni.cov.uk or sent to: Rating Policy Division, Department of Finance and Personnel, Longbridge House, 20-24 Waring Street, Belfast, BT1 2EB.

The Minister said: “Decreasing the number of Councils from 26 to 11 will present immediate challenges, including the major issue of the convergence of district rates. The Executive has set aside up to £30million for a transitional relief scheme to protect those affected ratepayers.”

“The scheme will allow councils to strike a new district rate with Land and Property Services applying an automatic subsidy directly to rate bills for the next few years. This measure will mean the increases will be gradual in those difficult early years,” he said.

“It’s anticipated local government reorganisation will lead to economies of scale and better ways of delivering local services, which should keep district rates down in the longer term.”

The Minister then explained: “This 12-week consultation is not about the sort of scheme we should have, it’s about the detail of the scheme: how long it should last, the amount of relief required each year and whether we need thresholds. The funding available for the scheme is substantial and is enough to help up to 300,000 ratepayers for a transitional period. However, as the analysis shows, if we want a scheme lasting more than three years there will have to be thresholds applied.”

“I would encourage as many people as possible to respond to this consultation and help inform decisions so that an effective scheme is in place before next year’s rate bills go out to all domestic and non-domestic ratepayers,” he said.

The consultation paper which sets out the details of the proposed scheme is available at the Department of Finance and Personnel website. When responding to the exercise respondents should bear in mind that the Department is only considering the detail of the scheme.

The consultation runs from 28 May to 19 August 2014.