Northern Ireland Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir has made a ministerial statement, setting out a package of measures aimed at modernising the domestic and commercial elements of the rating system in Northern Ireland. These will be subject to continued consultation with the Finance Committee and external stakeholders.
The package includes proposals for the reduction of business rates relief for charity shops to at least 90% (though no further than the 80% mandatory relief given in the rest of the UK). The Minister has estimated that if charity shops were required to pay 10% of their ratings bill, this would translate to approximately £15/week. He hoped that this would serve to redress the balance on high streets of charity retail to standard business, and that while he was in favour of continuing to single out charity shops on the high street for favourable treatment, there was a case for limiting their growth.
Proposals also include an increase in rates paid on empty properties from 50% to 75% of the occupied rate (still substantially below the 90% rate paid in Scotland), and the removal of the university halls of residence exemption that was put in place in 2007.
The Minister also intends to replace the existing Small Business Rate Relief scheme with a more targeted £22 million investment in small retail and hospitality businesses. Subject to certain tests, the initiative would see business investment in the form of, for example, new equipment, skills training or the employment of additional staff.