19/02/2010

Wilson Freezes Empty Property Rating

NI Finance Minister Sammy Wilson has announced that the rating of empty commercial properties will remain frozen at 50%.

The 50% level for the rating of empty commercial premises was introduced in Northern Ireland in 2004, and the Minister’s decision follows an evaluation of the scheme by his Department.

The Minister (pictured) explained his reasoning behind the decision and said: "Levying rates on empty commercial premises is a move which, the evaluation shows, is working reasonably well," said Minister Wilson.

"Allowing commercial properties to lie empty is not good for the economy and, ultimately, not good for business.

"I still feel it is right to make empty premises liable for rates to both contribute to the funding of public services and help encourage the property quickly back onto the market."

The decision to keep the level at 50% contrasts with the position in England and Wales where rates are charged at the full 100%. There have, however, been calls for increased relief for owners of empty properties in light of the economic downturn.
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The Minister responded to these demands by saying: "I have listened carefully to the calls for more relief for vacant properties, particularly from those in the local business community. I have decided to retain empty property relief at 50% at least until we are well into recovery.

"Because of the worsening economic outlook we made the wise decision in 2008 not to follow the change to 100% liability in England and Wales for all commercial properties, including factories. Now is not the time for such moves though I think it is worth looking at again when economic conditions have improved.

"In coming to my decision, I have also considered the direct impact any further concessions would have on the revenues available to district councils for the important local services they deliver.

"I believe that this is a prudent approach, balancing the need to help the local economy through the recession, with the demands that a tightening financial environment are placing on the public purse."

Mr Wilson did announce one change to the policy, making properties that are occupied by companies in administration exempt from having to pay vacant property rates.

"Currently, companies in administration are liable for vacant rates," he said.

"My view is that this hinders the rescue of such businesses. I therefore intend to exclude them from this liability from April, a move which is also helpful to councils because it avoids the uncertainties associated with what often turns out to be written off debt."

(NS/BMcC)

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