Northern Ireland

Rates: Máirtín Ó Muilleoir proposes higher bills for 7,000 households

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Image caption The minister said it forms part of "the biggest shake up in rating policy in a generation"

About 7,000 households in Northern Ireland could face higher rates bills under a proposal from the Finance Minister, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir.

Rates are property taxes paid by households and businesses and are based on the value of the property.

He said the reforms are part of "the biggest shake up in rating policy in a generation".

But the DUP's Emma Little Pengelly said the proposals have yet to get executive approval.

"These are the minister's views. He has put forward his proposals and there will now be a consultation," she said.

Image caption Emma Little Pengelly said the plans had not yet been agreed by the Stormont Executive

"As chair of the finance committee, we are undertaking a process of taking evidence from a wide range of people impacted by this.

"We will be making up our minds during this process and the proposals will come back to the Northern Ireland Executive."

'Shake up'

Households who pay their entire annual rates bill in one chunk currently get a 4% discount as part of what is known as the early-payment discount.

But Mr Ó Muilleoir has proposed phasing this out.

The proposed plan will also mean charity shops, which currently pay no rates, will have to contribute.

The minister pointed to the rest of the UK, where such shops get an 80% discount.

Image caption Mr O'Muilleoir is also due to announce a new scheme for small business

Currently, if a house has a rateable value above £400,000 its rates bill is assessed as though it is valued at £400,000.

The minister is proposing to change the system so that rates are now levied on the portion above £400,000.

That would raise about £4.5m for the executive.

But Mrs Little Pengelly said that the DUP support the capped rate as it stands.

Hospitality

The small business rates relief scheme, which was introduced in the depths of the recession, is to be refocused on retail and hospitality businesses.

A review found that while the current scheme was popular, it had not helped create jobs or economic growth.

The new scheme will provide more support for fewer businesses at a cost of £22m.

A pilot scheme is also proposed for additional rate relief to businesses along the Falls and Newtownards Roads in Belfast.

These "Business Empowerment Zones" will be designed to encouragement investment.

Measures to increase the rates charged on empty commercial properties will raise about £16m.

Currently, an empty property pays no rates for three months and 50% after.

The new proposal is for empty properties to attract a rate of 75%.

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