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Businesses threatening legal action over rates

A property expert has said businesses could start to legally challenge their rates bills ahead of the scheduled re-evaluation in 2015.

Last week Belfast shop owners called for a cut or freeze on rates as their trade suffers due to the ongoing flag protest, adding that high rates on top of the downturn and a decline in footfall are killing retail in the city.

Business rates here are based on net annual value (NAV) - which was last updated in 2001.

Eleven years later and following the recession and property crash, a review of business rates postponed from 2010 and 2011, isn't due until 2015.

Conor Devine, a chartered surveyor and principal at Belfast-based GDP Partnership, said he has clients facing ruin because of a lack of flexibility from Land and Property Services.

"I have around six clients today who could be bust in six months' time with the loss of around sixty jobs," he said. "We are finding that we can work things out with the banks, but with Land and Property Services, if the computer says it is time to pay, it is time to pay and if people cannot pay, they are being bankrupted.

"Many people did property deals expecting a re-evaluation of rates in 2010, and then it was put back to 2011, and now it is not happening until 2015 and people are still paying rates based on the value of the property in 2001, before the downturn, before the property crash, and they are in trouble.

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"Some businesses have indicated to me that they intend to legally challenge their rates bills."

A Department of Finance and Personnel spokeswoman said that the current valuation list for business ratepayers dates back to 2003, based on 2001 values.

"A non-domestic revaluation exercise is already under way and will come into effect in 2015 based on 2013 values," she said.

"This will rebalance business rates. Business premises that have experienced rental value decreases more than the average since the last revaluation will pay less.

"Many will stay the same. Business premises that have experienced rental value increases more than the average will face higher rate bills from April 2015.

"Even when values decline, the Executive and district councils still need to raise the same amount of revenue to fund essential public services."