Belfast Telegraph

Rate debt soars to all time high of £160m

By Adrian Rutherford

Rate debt in Northern Ireland has hit a record £160m — yet in many cases not enough has been done to recover the money, according to a new report.

The level of debt has almost doubled in the last five years, with the recession being blamed for the surge.

Some public bodies are among those failing to pay their bills on time.

There has also been a sharp increase in debt which has simply been written off pick up next around £53m was cancelled between 2008 and 2012.

Yet while rate debt is at an all-time high, Stormont’s Public Accounts Committee has concluded that more can be done to claw back what is owed.

Its report, published yesterday, reveals how rate debt has spiralled from £88m in 2006-7 to £160m in 2011-12,

Around £60m of that figure is being pursued through the courts with another £11m to be recovered through payment arrangements.

But the rest – around £90m – is not being pursued through either of these methods, the PAC |discovered.

It has requested a review of Land and Property Services’ debt collection process to identify |options for a more effective collection of debt. During its |investigation, the PAC heard evidence that a number of public bodies were not paying their rates on time.

Its report added: “The committee is appalled to find that some public bodies are included on the debtor list and are not paying rates when they are due.

“The committee considers that public bodies should not be paying rates late and the Department [of Finance] should ensure that this is the case.”

The committee’s chair, Michaela Boyle, said the recession had made debt recovery more difficult, but warned the burden must be shared equally.

“We see that the delays in making rate assessments can result in people paying too little or too much,” she said.

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

Background

Land and Property Services is responsible for billing and collecting rates from 840,000 properties. There is a backlog of valuations |waiting to be completed. As of last March, 26,000 cases were outstanding. The Public Accounts Committee found rate debt is almost double what it was five years earlier.

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