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Last Updated: Monday, 3 July 2006, 15:02 GMT 16:02 UK
NI households await rates changes
By Mike McKimm
BBC NI environment correspondent

Northern Ireland's houses
Northern Ireland's houses have been valued for rating

A survey of the value of homes across Northern Ireland has just been completed and over the next few weeks every household will be advised of their individual capital value.

That figure will then be used to calculate next year's domestic rates bill and the new water charges. Both of these are due in April 2007.

The capital values are set as of the start of January 2005.

North Down Council area has the highest average capital value of 152,000, while Strabane has the lowest at 85,000.

The valuers have had to ignore any rise in value since then.

Some properties have risen by more than 30% since last January.

The new valuation means that more than half of all homes will see a decrease in their rates bill as a result of the survey.

Water
Water bills will make 2007 an even more expensive year

The remaining 40% will face a rise of less than 450 while just 3% will have an increase in excess of that.

Those facing more than a one third increase in their rates as a result of the revaluation will have the increase phased in over three years.

An added financial burden will be the addition of new water charges, also based on the new capital value.

These will be phased in over three years and capped at 750.

Not everyone will have to pay all or any of the new charges.

Over 175,000 households will pay a reduced rate or no rates at all.

An arrangement will be in place to substantially reduce the effect of the water charges on low income households.

The revaluation is an attempt to redistribute the rates burden more fairly across the population.

House value

The last valuation was in the mid-1970s when a house was valued according to its ability to be rented.

Unlike today, fewer people owned their houses then.

But demographic changes and market forces have transformed the values of homes across Northern Ireland.

Many areas, once all but rundown, are now fetching premium prices but pay little or no rates.

If a house has a desirable situation, a bigger garden or some feature that makes it command a better market value it will mean that the owners will end up paying more
Mike McKimm

It is these houses that face the biggest percentage increase.

Once every home is advised of its new valuation, all the information will be published on the internet.

That will allow people to compare their value against their next door neighbour and decided if it is fair or not.

Homeowners can appeal their valuation if they consider it wrong or unfair.

The Valuation and Lands Agency who carried out the survey say they only valued houses from the exterior.

The internal condition is assumed to be average and did not form part of the exercise.

But if a house has a desirable situation, a bigger garden or some feature that makes it command a better market value it will mean that the owners will end up paying more in rates and water charges.

Finance Minister David Hanson said the new system was both "fair and transparent".

"The last domestic rates revaluation exercise was conducted in 1976 and with changes in the economy over this period, some households are now paying a larger share than they should, relative to other ratepayers in similar properties.

"This is unfair and is something that we need to change," Mr Hanson said.

"I have been anxious to ensure that no-one in Northern Ireland suffers undue hardship as they adjust to this new rating system."

He said a free phone helpline would be available for anyone who had a query about their home's valuation and relief measures would be in place for the 3% of households whose rates are increasing by the most.

The helpline for householders is: 0800 197 0611.

People will also be able to contact the helpline: online at www.mycapitalvalueni.gov.uk or by filling in the enquiry form attached to their notification letter; or by writing to the Valuation & Lands Agency, PO Box 981, Belfast BT13 9AQ.




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