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Call for tougher action over £125m in rates still owed by businesses and residents in Northern Ireland


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Unpaid rates for Northern Ireland councils. Graphic Raymond Esteban

Unpaid rates for Northern Ireland councils. Graphic Raymond Esteban

More than £125m worth of rates have not been paid in Northern Ireland, it has been revealed

More than £125m worth of rates have not been paid in Northern Ireland, it has been revealed

Alex Dodd

Unpaid rates for Northern Ireland councils. Graphic Raymond Esteban

More than £125m worth of rates have not been paid in Northern Ireland, it has been revealed.

A total of £53m in domestic rates and £62m in non-domestic rates were outstanding as of last April.

The figures were revealed by Finance Minister Conor Murphy after an Assembly question by Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw.

She had asked how much was lost to the Executive in unpaid domestic and non-domestic rates over the last four years.

In 2018/19, the total for both amounts was £124,740,655, although this has reduced since the 2015/16 total of over £143m.

Broken down by council area, Belfast had the highest debt at £44,532,637.

Newry, Mourne and Down had £14,673,876 and the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon area owed £12,499,450.

The remaining areas had debts ranging from just under £5m (Mid and East Antrim) to over £8m (Ards and North Down).

Ms Bradshaw said: “As the Assembly considers how to deliver New Decade, New Approach with significant funding pressures, it is vital that rates due under the current system are collected promptly so that vital public services can be delivered, not least around health transformation.”

She added: “While it is encouraging to see arrears reducing, there is clearly a significant road still to travel.”

A written response from the minister said the 2019 debt was the lowest for a decade, noting that year end debt is carried over.

Around 50% of the debt includes extended payment arrangements or those subject to legal recovery proceedings.

“Debt arises because ratepayers have not paid their rate bills,” said Mr Murphy. “We must also accept that we are in a challenging economic environment and many people are struggling to pay their bills. LPS continues to see large numbers of individuals and businesses facing bankruptcy.”

He said that LPS engage with some ratepayers to pay over a longer period of time, which inevitably increases the level of debt rating at the end of the year.

Mr Murphy added that while LPS will support those struggling to pay, “they must, and will, rigorously pursue those who don’t pay”.

This year, all 74,000 non-domestic properties were officially revalued for the first time since 2015.

‘Reval 2020’ delivered a shock for many in the hospitality sector, with hotels in Belfast facing a 52% jump in rateable values.

This included the rateable value of the Europa Hotel rising from £515,000 to £800,000. A spokesperson for LPS said there was an “encouraging downward trend” in rate debt figures, with 2018/19 being the lowest in a decade.

Domestic and business rates raise over £1.3bn each year to fund essential public services.

Belfast Telegraph