Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland councils have missed out on £75m rates since 2014

By Allan Preston

Rates worth £75m have slipped through the fingers of the agency responsible for collecting them in Northern Ireland over the last three years, new figures show.

The value of domestic and non-domestic rates lost in 2016/17 was more than £20.6m, with a further £28.6m and £25.3m lost in the two previous years.

The figures obtained from Land and Property Services (LPS) by the Ulster Unionist Party also show that the Belfast City Council area alone accounted for a third of the overall debt over the period - more than £23m.

Belfast's 2016/17 losses of over £6.5m, however, show a £3m improvement from the previous year.

Derry City and Strabane District Council had the second highest losses of more than £7.5m over the three years.

Its 2016/17 losses of more than £2.2m also represented an improvement from the previous year of over £600,000.

UUP finance spokesman Steve Aiken MLA said that while he was disappointed at the scale of the problem, he was pleased the situation is improving.

He added: "This lost revenue will be deeply annoying for the vast majority of households and businesses across Northern Ireland who reliably pay their rates in full every year. It must also be remembered that this lost money represents lost services to local and central government.

"This is money that should have been used on improving leisure facilities, updating our town centres and, most importantly, used to reduce the rates burden being felt by local households and small businesses - something which successive finance ministers at Stormont have simply failed to do."

A Derry City and Strabane Council spokesman welcomed the reduction in rates written off in the district but said it supported the exploration of "any more effective means of collecting" by LPS to "ease the burden on local ratepayers and ensure that local councils can continue to function efficiently to meet the needs of the general public".

A spokesman for the Department of Finance said LPS would only write off debt under strict guidelines based on best practice by the Northern Ireland Civil Service.

"The main contributory factor to write-off levels is debtor insolvency," he said.

"Where a debtor is insolvent, such as in cases of bankruptcy, or liquidation, that debt is uncollectable under existing insolvency legislation and LPS has to write this off."

He concluded: "The level of rate debt in NI is now at an eight-year low.

"In 2016/17 LPS collected some £1.245 billion in rates, and the corresponding write-off was 1.3% of the gross rates due."

Belfast Telegraph

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