29/08/2008

Dodds Wants Publics' Views On Rates Reforms

NI Finance Minister Nigel Dodds has urged member of the public to respond to the current consultations to improve the domestic rating system.

The consultations, which end next month, focus on three policy areas.

A rates deferment scheme for home owning pensioners; improved data sharing powers to facilitate increased rate relief uptake; and the introduction of green rebates.

The closing dates for each are 16, 19 and 26 September respectively.

Calling on local people to make their views known, Mr Dodds said: "I am keen to hear the views of ratepayers, local government and all who have a stake in the future of our rating system. People should exercise their right to be heard, confident that their comments will be fully considered.

"So far, the views of ratepayers have made a real impact on the improvement measures being introduced - additional relief for pensioners, a lone pensioner allowance and a freeze in regional rates liability.

"It is clear that devolution makes a real difference by helping local people shape local policies. I am committed to taking full account of what local people say before finalising the detail of these new proposals."

Part of the plans feature a rates deferment scheme for home owning pensioners.

The Government has said this would help those who are ineligible for means tested rate relief or housing benefit.

Mr Dodds insisted: "This is not a new form of relief, nor is it another allowance. Rather it provides a payment choice allowing rate bills to be conditionally postponed.
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"In recognition of the difficult decisions involved, it is proposed that participants would be made fully aware of the possible financial implications of the scheme before entering into a deferment agreement."

The Government is also seeking views on data sharing powers, as part of an overall strategy to improve the take up of rate reliefs.

Outlining the details of the plans, the Finance Minister said: "Since the return of devolution, a priority of the Executive is to make a real difference quickly to the most vulnerable ratepayers, and pensioners in particular.

"While many would like to see the automatic delivery of rating reliefs and allowances, this is not possible at present. However, the new measures would improve the targeting of reliefs and make the verification system easier, with automatic delivery remaining a longer term aim."

The final consultation paper seeks views on rate rebates for energy efficient and zero carbon homes.

A rebate would be provided to households that install cavity wall and loft insulation.

In addition, it is proposed to provide an initial exemption from rates, for up to five years, for the first residents of new homes that meet the proposed new zero carbon standard.

Emphasising the long term benefits involved, the Minister said: "Energy efficient homes will be cheaper to heat, more fuel efficient and, with the proposed rate rebate, save householders money.

"I cannot emphasise enough the importance of hearing the views of the Northern Ireland public. I especially want to hear from those who pay the bills, year in, year out, including those who have never responded in the past.

"These policies matter, so let your voice be heard," added Mr Dodds.

(PR/JM)

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