Document 14: Land and Property Services (LPS) e-mail response to Commissioner 30 March 2021
From: Snowden, Ian [information redacted]
Sent: 30 March 2021 16:56
To: McCullough, Melissa Dr [information redacted]
Cc: [information redacted]
Subject: RE: Confidential: Information requestDear Melissa
I have provided answers to your questions below. The answers are possibly a bit longer than you were expecting, but some context on the rating system is necessary to help explain the position properly.
It is my understanding that the name of the LPS rate payer account and the attached bank account are not necessarily reflective of the same thing and that the bank account attached to the named LPS account do not necessarily need to match or belong to the same named person (if named) on the LPS account. Can you confirm this is correct?
Rates are a tax on the occupationof property – that means that the occupier of the property is normally liable to pay the rates rather than the owner. (There are some exceptions to this where the owner or landlord of the property is liable for the rates: landlords/owners are liable the rates on very small non-domestic properties with Net Annual Values under £1590; and a landlord can apply to retain the liability and recover the cost through the rent charges to a tenants.) LPS would want the name on a rate account to be such that it would allow us to clearly identify who the occupier is in order that we can collect the rates from them. In the case of Mr McHugh’s office in Strabane, the account name ‘Maoliosa McHugh MLA – Strabane Sinn Fein Office’ would be sufficiently unambiguous to identify clearly who is liable to pay the rates on the property and to pursue them for payment if that were necessary.
The notion of a ‘bank account attached to the named LPS account’ is perhaps based on a false assumption that a rate account will always have a bank account attached it. LPS’ primary interest is in collecting the rates that are due on a property and we accept payment using many kinds of methods including direct debit, bank transfer, debit or credit card, cheque or cash at a Post Office or Pay Point. Therefore you don’t need to have a bank account to pay your rates. Some ratepayers have multiple accounts that they use at different times; indeed, many rate accounts paid by direct debit have multiple sets of bank details recorded in our system. Someone else can choose to pay your rates for you (if you are lucky). Some businesses are part of a larger group or conglomerate that go by a completely different name. Some businesses delegate management of their rates to an accountant or other professional service. As long as the rates are paid, LPS has a very limited interest in who pays the money or how it is paid. A number of questions were asked of LPS last October about why we didn’t check that the rate account name and bank account name matched, but there is no reason for us to do that and it would serve no useful purpose in terms of collecting the rates revenue.
Just so I am clear, does the name used as the LPS account name need to be reflective of the actual bank account attributable to the same?
For the reasons explained above, the name on the rate account doesn’t have to reflect any bank account name.
Also, it is my understanding that the LPS account named Maoliosa McHugh MLA-Strabane Sinn Fein Office has been changed sometime since October 26. Are you able to confirm this? If so, can you confirm the name change.
The name has now been changed to ‘Strabane Sinn Féin Office’.
Can the owner of a property register the name of the LPS account anything or are there guidelines to what the account can be named?
LPS sets up or amends the rate accounts of the occupier/owner of properties based on information provided by phone, using the on-line ratepayer change form or by written correspondence. NI Direct and LPS staff processing this information are trained to do so in accordance with telephone scripts and guidance provided in procedure documentation. As a general rule, we go with what the ratepayer tells us their name is or what their business is called, although there are some conventions on dealing with deceased persons and the names of ratepayers who trade under a business name (e.g., a common formulation on non-domestic accounts looks like Ian Snowden T/A Land & Property Services).