29/06/2010

Unused Homes 'Due Rates' In 2011

Empty homes will be liable to the same rates as occupied homes from 1 October next year - with this change set to raise £10m revenue a year.

NI Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson, has announced the news after receiving full Executive, Department of Finance & Personnel Committee and cross party support in the Assembly.

Speaking about the decision, the Minister said: "Last year I postponed this measure because the housing market was in the doldrums. There are signs, however, that it is beginning to move again with more sales and lettings taking place.

"I appreciate that those that own empty homes will be facing bills for the first time, and I am keen to give them plenty of time to either prepare for the new charge or get the home in question occupied.

"For that reason I am not introducing it until late next year. This effectively means that those people who are still holding longer terms empty homes next year will only pay for half of the rating year. This will help ease in this measure," he said.

This measure will ensure, as far as possible, that properties do not sit vacant unnecessarily and will help open up some opportunities for people looking for affordable housing.

Mr Wilson also advised: "I am keen to avoid adversely impacting on the building industry here, which is experiencing tough times, particularly for those involved in speculative house building. I do not wish to add to their difficulties so will protect them by providing an initial exemption period for their unsold stock.
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"For unsold houses already built and those that are completed in the next financial year, I am providing an 18-month initial exemption. In subsequent years it will be 12 months."

The Minister concluded: "While some will be concerned about new charges, this measure has been in the pipeline for a number of years.

"Importantly, the £10million per year that could be raised from this measure will provide additional resources for key public services.

"It should also not be forgotten that empty homes demand public services too – roads, police and fire services, public health and so on.

"I believe it is right that those holding empty homes should contribute towards the public purse, reducing the burden on other ratepayers, as well as encouraging homes to be lived in."

Meanwhile, the Sinn Féin Economy Spokesperson, Mitchel McLaugthlin welcomed the announcement - but voiced concerns about the number of exemptions attached to the proposals.

"While there are thousands of people suffering from homelessness and waiting lists continue to grow we must find ways to encourage speculators and developers to bring these properties into the housing market," the MLA said.

"That should be the priority rather than maintaining the conditions where those who helped create the unsustainable development bubble are able to continue to manipulate and distort the housing market.

"Many developers and speculators were part and parcel of the housing crisis resulting in the inevitable collapse of the construction industry.

"For these reasons I welcome the Minister's statement on empty homes.

"I remain concerned however, about the number of exemption clauses and will insist that these are deployed in an appropriate manner and are rigorously monitored to ensure that no abuses occur."

(NS/BMcC)

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