Rates reform will increase levy on 6,700 of north's most valuable homes
PROPOSALS for "groundbreaking" reform of the Northern Ireland rates system will see the levy increase for almost 7,000 households.
Among plans set out by finance minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir on Tuesday was the removal of a cap on domestic rates.
It means 6,700 homes in the north with a rateable value of more than £400,000 could be asked to pay more from next April.
The Department of Finance said the measure would generate around £4.5 million annually in extra money.
Speaking to the Northern Ireland Assembly, Mr Ó Muilleoir said: "I believe that those who can afford to contribute to the rating system should do so.
"However, the application of a £400,000 cap means that those in houses with a higher value pay proportionately less than those in middle or lower value homes.
"I want to see this corrected with measures introduced to ensure a more proportionate contribution, while safeguarding elderly pensioners on low incomes who have remained in high value family homes."
It was just one of a series of proposals outlined by the minister to radically reform how households and businesses are charged rates.
Others included replacing the small business rates relief scheme with a £22m fund for small retailers and firms in the hospitality sector.
And Mr Ó Muilleoir wants to increase the rates charged on empty business properties and place a levy on charity shops which are currently exempt.
"The package constitutes the biggest shake-up in rating policy in a generation, and signals my commitment to a tax system that is fair and that supports prosperity," he said.
"My aim in setting out these proposals is to ultimately arrive at a refreshed, fit-for-purpose rating system in which citizens and commercial ratepayers contribute, according to their ability, to funding the building of a modern, inclusive, exemplary society."
Plans for the £22m retail and hospitality fund would likely run for three years and would give up to 40 per cent support to 13,000 businesses, including shops in provincial towns which previously missed out.
However, some 10,000 miscellaneous properties, such as offices located above shops, would not be eligible for relief.
"These proposals are not just supporting the growth in retail and hospitality, but also given our members commitment to sourcing local produce, they are a real boost for the local supply chain and for the agri-food sectors among others," their chief executives Glyn Roberts and Colin Neill said.
But head of the Federation of Small Business in Northern Ireland Wilfred Mitchell said the announcement was "hugely disappointing, as it proposes to set small businesses against each other by attempting to `pick winners' - to be paid for by hiking the bills of thousands of small firms to raise funds to give to pubs, cafes and retail chains".