AQO 4544/11-15

Mr Tom Elliott
Ulster Unionist Party
Fermanagh and South Tyrone

Tabled Date: 05/09/2013
Answered On Date: 17/09/2013
Priority Written: No

To ask the Minister of Finance and Personnel how many pensioners were included in the 2012/13 Rates Relief Scheme.

There were approximately 17,500 pensioners included in the 2012/13 Rate Relief Scheme, over 11,000 of these were owner occupiers and around 6,500 were tenants.
The Low Income Rate Relief scheme was introduced under Direct Rule in April 2007 to address shortcoming in the rating system where there were virtually no reliefs beyond those available through the housing benefit system. It is a top up scheme which provides assistance to those low income households that are just beyond the thresholds for Housing Benefit or that are in receipt of partial Housing Benefit. The scheme was biased in favour of pensioners, particularly those who are asset rich and income poor. The scheme costs the NI Executive almost £7m per annum.
Since its introduction other allowances were introduced by the NI Assembly to help moderate the excesses of the new rating system, including the £400,000 value cap and the Lone Pensioner Allowance.
My Department is currently out for consultation on removal of the top up scheme. This is so we can better afford to retain the main rate rebate scheme which currently helps around 225, 000 of our lowest income households but is faced with a 10% cut in funding imposed by HM Government – a cut that applies throughout the UK.
Before jumping to conclusions on the removal of the top up scheme I would urge members to study the worked examples in the consultation paper, as they do show that the scheme is not targeted at the poorest households, whether that be pensioners or those of working age.
Given the continuing public spending squeeze, we have to look at these things in terms of what are our real priorities in terms of helping those least able to pay rates.