‘Alarm bells’ ring on rates

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More than £225,000 of debt from unpaid rates was written off in Limavady last year, an amount that has doubled in just three years, figures have revealed.

The body responsible for collecting rates, Land and Property Services, say the jump is a result of the ongoing economic downturn. Last year the amount of rates debt, both domestic and commercial, written off in Limavady stood at a provisonal figure of £225,000 - more than double the £107,000 written off in 2009/10. In 2010/11 the figure stood at £216,000.

East Derry SDLP MLA John Dallat, who obtained the figures, said they should sound “alarm bells at Stormont”.

“Action is needed, and needed now, and I am determined that a new sense of teamwork emerges among all the players,” he said. “That teamwork must put people before parties and replace hopelessness with hope and a new beginning despite the austerity policies of the British government.”

Trudie Hylands of Debt Action NI in Limavady, said the figures “may well be shocking to some, but they do not surprise me at all, I’m sorry to say”.

“Limavady has suffered horribly over the last five years with the closures of several of our biggest employers (Seagate and Ministry of Defence, Ballykelly) not to mention the loss of the local building trade. Smaller businesses are going to the wall every day,” she said, explaining the knock-on impact is that people are unable to meet their financial commitments.

“The biggest concern here for me is that people are paying their “non-priority” creditors - credit cards, bank loans etc - in favour of their priority creditors, rates, mortgage, essential utility bills. I can understand why they do this. The credit card companies and catalogues will ring and ring and send letter after letter after letter - essentially they shout the loudest about non-payment,” she said. “Mortgage lenders and Land & Property Services (Rates) tend to send fewer letters and make less telephone contact when people don’t pay up on schedule and are therefore easier to ignore.”

Ms Hylands said stressed it is essential people seek help immediately.

“It may seem easier to put off paying your rates and mortgage, but the consequences can be swift and severe. We are here to help and the sooner you seek help, the better the outcome will be,” she added.

AN LPS spokeswoman says every effort is made before the debt is written off.

“Debt is only written-off where all possible rate recovery options have been exhausted and in accordance with government accounting write-off principles when the debt is therefore deemed as irrecoverable,” said the spokesperson. “Debt considered for write-off is subject to a number of tests, in accordance with the LPS write-off principles. Ratepayer debt associated with formal confirmation of bankruptcy, liquidation and administration is written off with immediate effect.”

In the Derry City Council area £1.745million was written off last year, while in Strabane the figure stands at £289,000. Both are significantly higher than in 2010/11 and 2009/10.

Across the north in excess of £21 million was written off in 2011/12, more than double the £10.2million written off in 2009/10.