Belfast Telegraph

Up to 3,500 firms could benefit from tax breaks

By Clare Weir

An additional 3,500 businesses will benefit from a 20% reduction on their rates thanks to new measures announced by Finance Minister Sammy Wilson.

The Small Business Rate Relief Scheme is to be extended to include properties with a net annual value of up to £15,000 and the discount will now apply to around half of all Northern Ireland businesses.

The Empty Retail Premises Relief Scheme - which was due to end in March 2013 - will now also be extended until the end of the current budget period in March 2015, subject to Assembly approval.

The Empty Retail Premises Relief Scheme was pioneered in Northern Ireland and is now being trialled in Scotland. Some 52 businesses have benefited from a 50% reduction on their rates totalling £143,000 since the introduction of this relief in April 2012.

The scheme offers a 50% reduction in the commercial rates bill during the first trading year to businesses operating in formerly vacant premises at a time when almost one in five retail premises in Northern Ireland lie empty.

Speaking in the Assembly, Mr Wilson said that the Executive recognises the difficulties that businesses are facing and are committed to helping them through challenging financial times.

"As well as tackling the high number of empty shops in our town centres this scheme is also helping to create much needed employment in this difficult climate," he said.

"I would encourage anyone thinking of setting up a business in an empty retail unit to consider applying for this concession. Just ask Land and Property Services and they will be happy to advise you about applying."

The minister also announced his intention to extend the current 18-month developer exclusion applicable under the Rating of Empty Homes for a further 12 months.

The rates exemption for stand alone ATMs in rural areas is also to be extended.

Mr Wilson added: "I am of the view that retaining ATMs in rural areas is important to ensure financial inclusion for rural communities, given the loss of other financial services in recent years. In addition research shows that cash withdrawn in rural areas is usually spent locally."

"I hope the extension of these rate reliefs and measures will provide much needed assistance to our local businesses in these difficult economics times."