Empty House 'Tax' Should Boost Housing Market

Details of a far-reaching review of the Northern Ireland rating system have been announced today - including a potential boost for those seeking homes.

The Finance Minister, Peter Robinson, outlined details of his review of domestic rates with his announcement including a 'tax' on both derelict land and empty houses.

Mr Robinson said that he plans to rate empty homes at 100% to encourage their use - as a potential boost for those seeking homes - possibly by 2009, and expects a derelict land tax affecting mainly old industrial areas around Belfast by 2010.

There was also some good news for higher level rate payers as bills in the most affluent areas are likely to be cut by April 2009.

The DUP Minister Peter Robinson said the rating 'cap' would fall from £0.5m valuation to £400,000 - but would cost the Assembly budget £2m. However, he said that around 5,000 homeowners would benefit.

He explained that other changes envisaged for next April include a 20% lone pensioner discount for those aged 70 and over; increasing the savings threshold for low income rates relief from £16,000 to £50,000 and commissioning a voluntary sector study to improve take-up levels of rate relief.

By April 2009 he also hoped to introduce a scheme allowing pensioners to defer payments until they sell their property or die, although relatively few people are expected to avail because they want to leave an inheritance.

Turning again to the number of empty houses, the Minister said he was keen to press forward with the rating of empty homes as quickly as possible, describing the measure as not just a device for raising revenue, but something that can also assist with wider policy objectives such as housing affordability.

“Given its clear benefits, I am proposing that this measure is introduced at the earliest possible opportunity, most likely April 2009, at a rate of 100%.

"This later date will give us time to consider the outcomes of the work currently being undertaken by the University of Ulster, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the Department for Social Development’s working group on housing affordability," he said.

He said that the review had also looked at the longer term and considered options as alternatives or supplements to the current rate system: “One such option that I believe should be carefully considered is the taxing of derelict or vacant land.

"This would be a complementary measure to the taxing of vacant houses. While this measure could bring in much needed additional revenue to help fund our public services, it could also help satisfy other wider policy considerations, such as ensuring that there is a sufficient supply of development land available, thus assisting two twin policy aims: that of affordable housing and economic growth.”


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