Page last updated at 08:03 GMT, Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Northern Ireland pensioners get rates deferral option

Houses
Pensioners will be able to defer paying rates

Pensioners in Northern Ireland are to be able to defer rate bills until they die or sell their properties

New legislation, outlined by Finance Minister Sammy Wilson, will allow those who are struggling to meet mounting bills in retirement will benefit most.

A reduced rate of interest will be charged. Assembly members backed the law, which comes into effect in April.

"Deferment is not a new relief or allowance and importantly does not represent free money," Mr Wilson said.

"It will however allow pensioners to roll up their rate bills at a concessionary rate of interest, generally until their death or the sale of the property."

Choices

Previous consultation was broadly supportive of the introduction of the scheme. Stormont's Finance and Personnel Committee said even if only a small number of pensioners were to benefit, the choice of deferment should be made available.

Mr Wilson added pensioners should be made are made fully aware of all the facts beforehand to allow them to make informed choices.

"There will be a range of issues for them to consider including the level of mounting debt, the impact on property equity and, looking further into the future, the value of the estate that they may wish to pass on," he said.

Councils will be paid the district rates due in the normal way and will not bear the direct costs in loss of immediate revenue.

The only impact will be a small extra amount for collection cost and also if any of the debt has to be written off in the future. A review of the scheme will take place after several years of operation.



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