The following update is drawn from two recent press releases from the Department:
On 21 March, the Finance Minister Mervyn Storey signalled changes to business rates, following the recent review of the business rating system.
The Minister was speaking to business organisations and local entrepreneurs at an event in Ballymena Business Centre, outlining his views on the way forward for business rates.
Commenting on the outcome of the business rating system review and how we raise money locally for public services, Mervyn Storey said “Following extensive engagement, with business organisations and individual ratepayers during the review of the non-domestic rating system, ideas are emerging on how to make the rating system a better one."
Alternatives to Rates
“It’s clear from the consultation report that I have published today, that there are no viable alternatives to the existing system. There is, however, a clear consensus on what the problems are and what needs to change.”
Frequency of revaluations and openness
The Minister added “Many ratepayers have asked for the rating system to be more responsive and open. I want to try and address these concerns and have asked Land & Property Services to prepare for revaluations every three years - starting with the next one in 2019 - and at the same time provide individual ratepayers with a breakdown or summary of their new valuation. These measures have the support of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, FSB, NIIRTA, the CBI and the various Chambers.”
The level of non domestic rates
Expressing his view on the level of rates the Minister said “I have taken heed of the many views around increases in the tax rates or rate poundages, which are set each year by the Assembly and the District Councils."
“I’d like to see the next administration continue the commitment to keep regional rate increases at no more than inflation over the next multi-year spending review period. This would provide greater certainty for businesses and also ensure that government budgeting is even more forward thinking. I would also like to give councils the freedom to separate the business and household district rates which will increase local accountability and control, for instance, in allowing an individual council the strategic choice of striking a more favourable non-domestic district rate.”
The future of industrial derating
Mervyn Storey said “I would also reiterate my support for continuation of industrial de-rating, something that few disagreed with during the consultation process. Given the recent challenges faced by the manufacturing industry I think this special measure is more relevant than ever."
The future of small business rate relief
Commenting on the future of small business rate relief, the Finance Minister said “I am inviting views on alternatives to small business rate relief, with a particular focus on town centres. Small business rate relief is a popular scheme but the independent evaluation found it to be poorly targeted. I am canvassing views on other targeted measures, including rating and other initiatives that would provide greater support to small businesses than the current scheme.
Local discretion and derelict property
“This also takes forward some of the issues raised in the recent review of business rates, around piloting local discretion over rate relief and imposing levies on derelict property, to encourage regeneration and investment in some areas. I am keen that my Department explores this further and engages with the business community on some of the ideas set out in this paper to help support our town centres.”
“I recognise the support for taxing online retailers, many of whom don’t pay rates. This is not right but it is not something that Northern Ireland could single-handedly address. I will be urging the next Executive to press HM Government to take action.”
In conclusion the Minister said “The proposals I have outlined today, are a beginning, they are certainly not the sum total of outcomes from the recent review which will now need to be considered in the context of the Chancellor’s recent budget."
“It will be for the next Executive to make decisions on the rating system and other matters, such as the sensitive issue of full exemption for charity shops. They will have to decide how best to align reliefs and exemptions with the aims of the new Programme for Government and Economic Strategy. The outcomes of this review will certainly inform those decisions and help towards shaping a fairer, more targeted and equitable rating system.”
Changes to the existing rating system will need new legislation to be taken through the Assembly after the May 2016 election.
On 26 October 2015, the Department launched a public consultation on this review. The consultation lasted for a period of twelve weeks, during which views were sought on the future direction of business rates within Northern Ireland. The review also sought views on alternative forms of business taxation as either replacements or supplements to the current rating system.
The formal consultation closed on 25 January 2016.