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When everyone has a home

Housing and debt helpline for Northern Ireland – 028 9024 5640

Rate rebate consultation announced

The Department of Finance and Personnel has launched a second stage consultation exercise seeking views on a proposed way forward for rates support from April 2014. The changes are needed as a result of the UK government’s decision to remove the council tax element of housing benefit in Britain and the rate rebate element in Northern Ireland.

Rates rebates and universal credit

Support for domestic rates is a devolved matter.  The NI Executive will maintain the current rate support measures until April 2014 but these measures will need to be revised in time for the introduction of Universal Credit (UC).  Currently, those in receipt of income related benefits are automatically eligible for housing benefit for rent and rates.  UC will extend to a much wider population than those on income related benefits and recipients will include those on small amounts of tax credit. The introduction of UC will bring an end to “passported” benefits and will mean new eligibility criteria are required to determine who is entitled to assistance with rates.

A phased approach

Changes to rates support are likely to be phased in. The Department “…broadly accepts the retention of existing rate rebate, modified for Universal Credit, coupled with the reduction of other support, as being the least worst option”.

Phase 1 

  • from April 2014 most claimants are expected to receive the same levels of support as provided under the current housing benefit system via a rates rebate
  • the low income rate relief scheme will be removed

Phase 2 

  • from April 2016 a newly designed scheme would be implemented once Universal Credit becomes the main income-related benefit
  • Universal Credit and Pension Credit will act as the main gateways into rate support entitlement.

Damaging to low income families?

Ending rate relief will be viewed by many in the advice sector as potentially damaging to low income families.  The rates relief scheme is designed to help people who are not getting full housing benefit to cover their rates. This means that someone who is getting partial housing benefit or is just outside the income limits may be able to get some help through rate relief.

Our Policy Manager Nicola McCrudden said: “In general terms we are talking about relatively small amounts of money. But to low income families a cut of even a few pounds per week can cause real hardship. We know that the Finance Minister has a difficult decision to make and sees this as the ‘least worst’ option. However we would ask him to look again at this proposal and ask himself if he can guarantee that no low income family will suffer as a result of scrapping rates relief”.

The Department of Finance & Personnel’s second stage consultation on Rate Rebate Replacement is available on its website.  Responses should be submitted by 11 October 2013.

Tagged In

Policy, Affordability, NI Assembly