Domestic rates set by Northern Ireland’s district councils are to rise by an average of 5% in 2009/10. The highest rate increase is 8.52%, agreed by Fermanagh council. Two district councils – Castlereagh and Larne – are keeping their district rate at last year’s level. Only six of the 26 councils are not increasing rates above the level of inflation.
Rates paid by householders and businesses comprise both the district rate set by councils and the regional rate imposed by the Northern Ireland Assembly. The regional rate is frozen until 2011/12. Consequently, the total rates bill is much higher than that set by a council, but this year’s percentage increase is much smaller.
An £8m support package announced last month by finance minister Nigel Dodds avoided councils levying even higher increases. Councils faced severe financial stress this year, in particular because of large variations between expectations of rates incomes provided by a government agency, Land and Property Services, and actual rates income. Higher than predicted levels of vacant property caused councils to lose millions of pounds in income, leading to an acrimonious dispute between Land and Property Services and the district councils.
Many councils must also repay the Ministry of Defence and BT large amounts of collected rates, following a court judgement that reduced their rates liabilities. The support provided by Dodds has provided councils with additional finance and enabled them to make repayments to the MoD and BT on a staged basis over five years.