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Last Updated: Friday, 1 September 2006, 15:06 GMT 16:06 UK
No cap for NI rates says minister
David Hanson
Finance Minister David Hanson is opposed to a cap on rates
Finance Minister David Hanson has said he is opposed to introducing a cap to the new rating system.

His comments follow calls for rates bills to be limited in a similar way to council tax bills in the rest of the United Kingdom.

More than 7,000 householders in Northern Ireland have challenged the rateable estimates of their homes, the government confirmed last week.

But Mr Hanson said he was determined there would not be a cap on rates.

The minster told BBC Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster programme that his decision could be over-ruled if devolution returned in November.

However, he stressed that he was opposed to a cap in principle.

"I am determined there will not be a cap, but I have given the assembly the power to introduce one," he said.

"I make the point that if the assembly does introduce one, it will probably be helping less than 3,000 homes.

"That's not a blunt instrument, that is not a threat to the assembly, it is simply a matter of fact."

Meanwhile, SDLP leader and former Stormont finance minister Mark Durkan has defended his role in the changes being made to the rating system.

Northern Ireland's houses
Northern Ireland's householders are being told their homes' value

He was responding to Mr Hanson saying the process of change started when Mr Durkan was in charge.

Mr Durkan said: "David Hanson deliberately misrepresented a situation. "He is pretending that direct rule are simply carrying out what the assembly and the executive began.

"The fact is the direct rule ministers are going in a completely different direction than not just I as the finance minister, or as deputy first minister and all parties on the executive wanted but even the assembly, through the committee of finance and personnel."

Those who wish to challenge or query their rates estimate have six months to do so.

The first valuations were sent to householders in Northern Ireland at the start of July.

One resident of south Belfast said that she would consider challenging her bill.

Elvie Horne, 75, who lives in the Malone area, said she had been told by the VLA that her estimated new bill would be 2,600, but that she had not yet received written confirmation from the agency.

Mrs Horne said that some of her friends would see their rates bill rise from 1,900 to 5,800.

"I think there will be a lot of people around here who will challenge it," she said.

45,000 drop

The SDLP's Tim Attwood successfully challenged his evaluation and said that everyone should double-check their quotations.

Mr Attwood, who recently received his letter, said his home had been overvalued by 45,000.

"We recently received correspondence from the Valuation and Lands Agency stating that the valuation of our house, in Andersonstown in west Belfast, was 175,000. I thought this was over-valued," he said.

"I checked other houses in our area and established that the VLA had valued other similar properties at 130,000. When we contacted the VLA, they said it may have been a clerical error and agreed to send someone out to re-assess the property."

Mr Attwood said that if he had not queried the valuation his rates bill would have been 1,010 instead of 750.

Anyone who wants to check the value of their home can do so by logging onto the Valuation and Lands Agency's website at www.mycapitalvalueni.gov.uk.

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