Belfast Telegraph

Welfare Reform: views sought on the future of rates support for low income households

Stormont Executive press releases - Department of Finance and Personnel

As a result of the UK wide programme of Welfare Reform the Northern Ireland Executive must address the issue of rates support for low income households.

The Department of Finance and Personnel today launched a second stage consultation exercise seeking the views of interested groups and individuals on a proposed way forward for rates support from April 2014. 

The consultation exercise follows an extensive preliminary consultation earlier in the year. The proposed way forward accepts one of the key outcomes of that listening process, which was that the imposed 10% shortfall in funding should not continue to be met through NI’s public expenditure. 

It also reflects the majority view that this reduced funding should be managed by rationalising other rates support measures for households, accepting that there was no clear consensus from the preliminary consultation as to how this would be best achieved.

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson today urged those within the advisory sector, key stakeholders and anyone who may be affected by any future changes to engage with the consultation process. 

The Minister said: “This second consultation exercise is about adopting the principles identified in the previous consultation to help advance concrete policy proposals that will continue to protect those least able to pay rates and do so within the new cash limited budget we have at our disposal.” 

The consultation proposals advocate the continuation of the current arrangements for the main rate rebate scheme from 1 April 2014, for an interim period, with some minor modifications to allow the scheme to function when Universal Credit is first introduced.

The paper advances proposals for the early removal of the ‘top up’ low income rate relief scheme to help address some of the funding shortfall, with the Executive making up the remaining deficit. 

The consultation proposals also put forward the case for a future version of the scheme that can operate when Universal Credit is firmly established, making it easier to operate for both government and claimants. 

The Minister concluded: “There are difficult choices to be made. Although we propose retaining the main rate rebate scheme which helps 225,000 households in NI, the paper looks at proposals for the removal of the low income rate relief, which has served as a top-up for those households who are beyond its wide reach. No one wants to see relief removed from households but this is being put forward in the context of unavoidable funding cuts that Westminster has already made.”

The consultation document provides detailed options for the scheme for April 2014 together with illustrative impact assessments. The proposals will be subject to a 12 week consultation process.

Notes to editors:

1. The rate rebate element of Housing Benefit is an income-related benefit to help low-income households with the payment of rates. 

2. Comments on the future of rates support for low income households should be provided by 11 October 2013 by email, fax or in writing to the following address:

Rating Policy Division
Department of Finance and Personnel
3rd Floor
Longbridge House
20-24 Waring Street
Belfast
BT1 2EB

Email: ratingpolicy.cfg@dfpni.gov.uk
Fax: 028 9034 7435

3. The consultation paper is available on the Rating Review section of the DFP website: http://www.dfpni.gov.uk/rating-review.

4. Hard copies can be obtained by contact Rating Policy Division on 028 9127 7606. The consultation paper may be made available, on request, in alternative languages and formats.

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