As Ministers have still not been appointed to the Northern Ireland Executive, Departments remain in a situation where they continue to deliver public services without the day-to-day leadership and direction of local ministers. In rating policy terms, we will continue to act in line with the direction set by previous ministers and the Executive in their draft programme for government. Since January this year, the Department has taken various essential steps to maintain the integrity of the rating system.
Rates Bills 2017-18
Firstly, striking the Regional Rate, with special legislation passing through Westminster :The Northern Ireland (Ministerial Appointments and Regional Rates) Act 2017
The Act set the regional rates for domestic and non‐domestic property for the 2017‐18 rating year by stipulating a regional rate for domestic and non‐domestic property, expressed in terms of “pence per pound of rateable value”. Regional rates are normally set through an Order subject to the affirmative resolution procedure in the Assembly and made under Article 7 of the Rates (Northern Ireland) Order 1977 (SI 1977/2157). It was necessary to proceed by means of Westminster legislation in this instance because, in the continued absence of an Executive, these rates could not otherwise be set.
The rates reflect a 1.6% increase, for both domestic and non‐domestic ratepayers, equivalent to the current level of inflation as measured using the most recent GDP deflator. This inflationary measure has been the standard method used by the Northern Ireland Executive for providing for inflationary uplifts in this context since the restoration of the devolved institutions in 2007. It is also the inflation adjustment used in setting the Northern Ireland public expenditure budget. The expected net revenue from the combined regional rate is estimated to be in excess of £580m.
Rates Support 2017-18
Secondly, to extend the Small Business Rate Relief scheme for another year by making the necessary regulations: for the 2017/18. The scheme has been applied automatically to the rate bills of qualifying ratepayers as normal.
Finally, to implement the new rate rebate scheme for working age claimants awarded Universal Credit, who can no longer avail of Housing Benefit. This policy was previously agreed by Executive Ministers, following three consultations. The regulations for the new rate rebate scheme were made on 11 September 2017 and came into operation from 27 September 2017.
Universal Credit (UC) replaces housing benefit for rent only therefore a localised scheme for help with rates in Northern Ireland had to be devised. The new scheme will gradually replace housing benefit for rates in tandem with the introduction of universal credit by geographical area.
The new scheme is therefore only available in areas where UC has been introduced and you must qualify for UC to be entitled to rate rebate. Rates support for those not eligible to claim UC will continue to be provided through the social security system by housing benefit.
The local low income rate relief scheme, which is a top up of housing benefit, will also be phased out alongside housing benefit for rates.
Details on how to claim can be found on nidirect.
The Department, however, is unable to take forward any other new policies. These matters include the outcome of the Rates Rethink proposals, which were consulted on at the start of 2017 and these must await the appointment of new local Ministers. Another matter that must await restoration is the Back in Business Scheme which provides 50% relief for new ventures occupying long term empty shops. The subordinate legislation needed to extend the scheme needs affirmative approval (the express consent) of the NI Assembly.