Answering questions in a debate on plans to take forward the recent review of the non-domestic rating system in Northern Ireland, Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir has made it clear that charitable business rates relief will be included in the current review of the system.
Mr McPhillips (SDLP, Fermanagh and South Tyrone): “Does the Minister plan to impose a punitive rates system on charity shops ? Will he give a commitment not to impose any rates on charity shops?
Mr Ó Muilleoir: “Like the Member, I am a big fan of our charities, but we need to make sure that landlords are not dodging their rates obligation to pay 50% rates on an empty shop by putting in a charity. We need to get the balance right. We cannot have our high streets just made up of charity shops.
“I have engaged with the charity sector, and we may look at a way of saying that they make some contribution. It could be minimal, but, in England, Scotland and Wales, I believe, it is around 20% or perhaps even less than that. We should have an engagement. We need to make sure that we do not inhibit the great work that charities do; in fact, we want to encourage that work. There may be a way to do that in the time ahead. I have an open mind. I look forward to discussing with the Member and the Assembly the best way forward in that regard, but I have not made my mind up.”