With a last minute notice, I went to a meeting of South Belfast
residents at City Church. There was a discussion on the implications of
the Government’s planned implementation of their reformed rating
system. Households will be paying rates based on the capital (versus
rental) value of their homes.
event was covered by the BBC NI’s Steven Nolan Show, and by the South
Belfast News. There was a good variety of speakers, with some excellent
points made. I was there to listen to the residents. Towards the end,
Carmel Hanna (SDLP) and I spoke. We were the only politicians there,
but to be fair, it was short notice.
I explained how the new rate system is there only to raise a
predetermined amount of money to pay for new capital projects, and not
based on services actually used or ability to pay. If someone doesn’t
or refuses to pay, then everyone else’s rates will go up.
I put forward the argument that house prices in South Belfast are
higher than they would usually be, because of the utter lack of
planning control, allowing developers to speculate and drive prices
even higher. In this way, it is completely iniquitous that they are
escaping paying rates because they let their properties to students.
If students are happy to pay market rents and live in the same
dwellings as their non-student neighbours are living in, then what
reason is there for them not to pay rates? After all, they receive the
same, if not use more, services as everyone else.
If students want to escape paying rates, they could always move into university accommodation.
The reason given for student exemption is to encourage more people
to enrol into further education. Tenable enough, but entirely
political. The price is an influx of non rate paying young people at
the expense of pensioners who have made decades of tax and earning
contributions. The least the Government could do is provide an
exemption for pensioners.
Several members of the audience mentioned the absence of capping.
One individual insisted that he would not be paying more than the Prime
Minister, Tony Blair. The cap is £2,800 in London.
Without a cap, the next review of capital valuation of houses, in
five years time, will make the already outrageous situation even worse.
Basing tax revenues on property values, while exempting those who primarily benefit from such speculation, is perverse.
At the end of the day, all were agreed that the system to be imposed
is grossly unfair. The way forward is to proceed with the most