Stormont crisis delays rates bills, but London ready to step in

Letters should be sent out soon explaining the delay in rates bills and what ratepayers should do
Letters should be sent out soon explaining the delay in rates bills and what ratepayers should do

Annual rates bills to pay for services provided by local councils will be delayed as a result of the political deadlock – and even writing to hundreds of thousands of ratepayers is going to cost a considerable sum.

The Department of Finance confirmed on Tuesday that there will be a delay to bills being issued as a result of the impasse.

But, speaking in the House of Commons, Secretary of State James Mr Brokenshire made an explicit commitment to legislate for rates if no local administration is in place by Easter – effectively the first direct rule action by the government since 2007.

There are around 800,000 rates bills to be issued and by the end of this week the Department of Finance intends to have written to each ratepayer explaining the situation.

Usually at the beginning of April each year, the department issues annual rate bills to homes and businesses. This year, bills will be late due to a delay in the setting of the regional rate – the portion of the rates bill which is set by Stormont.

If Westminster legislates to set a regional rate – something which could see rates increased, although that is not yet clear – bills should be issued in May, giving ratepayers the choice of making payment by the usual 10 instalments or to avail of an early payment discount.

The department said that if a ratepayer normally pays by direct debit, they do not need to do anything. No direct debit payments will be taken until a new bill is issued. The department encouraged ratepayers who normally pay by standing order, online or by cheque to make a payment based on last year’s assessment.

More information is available at www.nidirect.gov.uk/rate-bill-update (domestic) and www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/rate-bill-update (non-domestic).