Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson urged not to slash rates relief for low earners

The Finance Minister has been urged to think again about cutting rates relief to 40,000 low-income households in Northern Ireland.

Possible areas where savings could be made are in rates relief to community halls and water and prescription charges.

Minister Sammy Wilson may be moved from his post this week, but the policy will be taken up by his successor, likely to be DUP MLA Simon Hamilton.

He aims to save £6m a year of public spending on welfare.

Yesterday Mr Wilson defended the idea as "the least worst option" available to him. He said: "This is one area of rate support that we can reduce and make significant savings on without causing the type of hardship it might cause for some of the people who are on the lowest level of income."

The knock-on effect of Welfare cuts imposed in London is that Northern Ireland must cut £18m a year from rate relief or subsidise the shortfall from other areas.

The SDLP's Dolores Kelly urged the minister to explore all options as to how savings could be made without hurting the most vulnerable. She said he could extend the rates direct debit period for up to a year to blunt the impact of cuts.

Alliance's Judith Cochrane said: "While I understand the minister must make these savings, he should look at other options."

Last night a DRD spokeswoman said: "The Executive's policy is that there will be no new domestic water charges during this Programme for Government period."

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