03/08/2009

Student Rate Relief Scheme Halted

Those in full time education are to have an existing rate relief scheme stopped.

The initiative has been ruled 'bottom of the class' by the former school teacher, now Stormont Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson.

He has announced that he intends to close the existing scheme for students and divert the savings to other forms of support.

This decision, agreed by the Northern Ireland Executive, follows an evaluation of the scheme, which showed that it was ineffective and represented poor value for money.

"We have a number of rate relief schemes that help those in need with their rate bills," he said.

"The scheme for students was aimed at encouraging young people to enter into, or remain in, full time education and training.

"An evaluation of the scheme has shown that the benefits of the relief are limited and it is not proving effective in meeting what I believe to still be a worthwhile objective," he continued.

"Therefore, while I am convinced that closing the rate relief scheme is the right thing to do, I am also giving a commitment today to re-direct the money saved by this decision and target it at those who most need it in an effective way that demonstrates value for money.

"My Department, together with the Department for Employment and Learning, are examining the available options with a view to consulting with key organisations in due course," he said.

The minister continued by explaining that provision would be made for those currently in receipt of the relief.

He said: "While it is intended that the scheme will be closed to new applicants from around December this year, those currently benefiting from the relief will be protected for the next couple of years, in accordance with savings provisions, providing the original eligibility rules continue to be met.

"To this end officials have been liaising with organisations that have a direct interest in this policy over recent months."

(BMcC/KMcA)

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