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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 September 2006, 08:06 GMT 09:06 UK
Few MLAs 'raise rates complaints'
Northern Ireland's houses
Many householders in NI face an increase in the amount they pay in rates
Only a handful of NI's politicians have written to Finance Minister David Hanson to complain about rates rises, the BBC has learned.

All four of the province's main political parties have said they are opposed to the proposed legislation which is due to come in next year.

Mr Hanson said half of NI's 18 MPs and about 10% of MLAs had written to him.

Under the new proposals, rates bills will be calculated according to the property's value in January 2005.

Mr Hanson has insisted he is determined there will be no cap on bills, but said his decision could be overruled if devolution returned by the November deadline.

When contacted by BBC Good Morning Ulster, the Ulster Unionist Party said said two of its representatives had written to the minister about the issue.

The party said it had raised the matter in the assembly and that its leader, Sir Reg Empey, had called for united political opposition to the plans.

Esmond Birnie of the UUP said that the number of assembly members writing to the minister was "only the tip of the iceberg" and that the party had responded to two previous consultation exercises and asked questions in the House of Commons.

"It must be stressed that the debate about the system that's coming in to place has been going on for about three years now," he said.

David Hanson
Finance Minister David Hanson is opposed to a cap on rates

When the SDLP were contacted they said East Londonderry MLA John Dallat had written to the minister on behalf of the party's assembly group after most valuations had been delivered.

South Belfast MP Alasdair McDonnell only wrote to Mr Hanson on Tuesday.

However, Mr McDonnell said that he had raised the issue directly with Mr Hanson.

"The issue has been raised with him," he said.

Sinn Fein has confirmed that no individual MLAs or MPs have written to the minister.

It said party policy was to make a joint submission, which it will forward before the consultation deadline on Friday.

The party's Alex Maskey said members and party structures would consider the issue.

"This is not a matter for each individual member to make up their mind as they see fit," he said.

The DUP said that most of its MPs and some MLAs have written to the minister, but the department website lists no record of a submission during the 2002 and 2004 consultation processes. The party disputes that.

The DUP's Peter Weir said his opposed the government proposals.

"We have indicated that we believe it is the wrong time, and indeed the wrong method, to be brought in," he said.

The first rates valuations were sent to householders in Northern Ireland at the start of July, and those who wish to challenge or query their rates estimate have six months to do so.

More than 7,000 homeowners have already challenged the rateable estimates of their homes.

Not everyone will have to pay all or any of the new charges. More than 175,000 households will pay a reduced rate or no rates at all.

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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