Rates Debt Rises To £160 Million

Synopsis: A new Report from the Assembly Public Accounts Committee has raised concerns that the level of rate debt has almost doubled in the last five years rising from £88 million in 2006-07 to £160 million in 2011-12.

Session: 2012/2013

Date: 16 January 2013

Reference: PAC 02/12/13

A new Report from the Assembly Public Accounts Committee has raised concerns that the level of rate debt has almost doubled in the last five years rising from £88 million in 2006-07 to £160 million in 2011-12. A further £53 million has been written off since 2008-09.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Michaela Boyle MLA, said: “The Committee recognises that the recent recession has made recovering rate debt more difficult. In these challenging economic times, Land & Property Services (LPS) which is responsible for ensuring that rates are collected, must explore all ways to help ratepayers in arrears pay their debt.”

The Committee’s Report found that recovering debt is not the only problem for LPS. The Report shows that the number of properties waiting for valuation at the end of March 2012 remained at over 26,000 and some alterations to domestic properties were taking more than two years to process. The Report also found that at the time of the introduction of the Rating of Empty Homes in October 2011 LPS did not know ownership details for nearly 10,000 vacant properties which were then becoming newly liable for rates; without such details no bill can be issued.

Ms Boyle continued: “It is also important that the rate burden must be shared equitably. We see that the delays in making rate assessments can result in people paying too little or too much. This is of particular concern to small businesses, which are currently facing more financial pressures. It is essential that that those paying rates are not subsidising those avoiding paying their rates.

“We are also concerned that the level of fraud and error in housing benefit administered by LPS is significantly higher than for some other social security benefits - the figure of £4.2 million included in the 2010-11 financial statements is truly shocking.” 

Ms Boyle concluded: “LPS faces many challenges in the next few years. Welfare reform, non-domestic revaluation and the Review of Public Administration will all affect its operation. A previous PAC report, published in November 2008, found that LPS experienced significant difficulties when major reforms last took place; if LPS is to meet the new challenges it will need to be better prepared.”

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