Three per cent of all businesses in Northern Ireland lodged appeals against their new rates bills in just a six month period.
And the figure is expected to rise considerably as more and more challenge payments which, for many, have seen massive increases.
The latest numbers have been provided by Finance Minister Arlene Foster in response to a question in the Assembly from Newry and Armagh Ulster Unionist MLA Danny Kennedy.
The Minister revealed that, between April 1 and September 30, the district valuers within Land and Property Services received 2,334 “challenge-type applications in relation to the revaluation of non-domestic properties.
“That equates to some 3% of the total number of non-domestic properties in Northern Ireland,” she informed Mr Kennedy.
“Of the cases completed by the district valuers, 94 have proceeded to the next stage in the appeals process, with an appeal to the Commissioner of Valuation.”
Mr Kennedy told the Assembly of the concerns of a great many constituents in Newry and Armagh, not only about the appeals process but the outcome of the revaluation.
He asked the Minister if she would be prepared to meet to discuss the issues.
Minister Foster said she would be happy to meet Mr Kennedy but said she was “a little worried that he has concerns about the appeals process” which she had hoped was “pretty transparent”.
She added: “However, if he has particular issues in and around the appeals process, I am happy to speak to him. As he knows, the revaluation was carried out not to increase the amount of money raised but to redistribute it on modern rental evidence, as there had not been a revaluation for some 12 years, and we had been through the highs and lows of the property boom by that stage.
“I am happy to have that meeting and look forward to discussing the issues with him.”
Meanwhile, local Sinn Féin councillor Terry Hearty is continuing to call on businesses in the South Armagh area to appeal their rates revaluations.
The Slieve Gullion representative was speaking recently after a public meeting with Land and Property Services (LPS) in the Sean Hollywood Arts Centre on the issue of business rates hikes.
“Following the District Valuers Revision of Valuation list several months ago some businesses in the South Armagh area saw an increase of 80 to 100% in their rates,” he said.
“These rates are totally unsustainable and if enforced will have a hugely detrimental effect on local communities.
“Businesses have told us that they simply cannot afford to pay these and that if they aren’t reviewed they will be forced into either job losses or closures. The closure of even one small business or one job loss in a rural area can have a devastating effect.”
Cllr Hearty said he also believed the new valuations were “inaccurate”.
“LPS informed us that they base their valuations on rental incomes for properties,” he said.
“While that may work in more urban areas I would dispute the use of such a method in the Crossmaglen area. There are not enough rented properties in the Crossmaglen area to get an average truly reflective of the real value of the business as most in the area are family owned or owner occupied.
“I also believe that they may have based some of these on costs in Newry and other urban areas where there is a much larger population and footfall.
“The area’s proximity to the border is also a huge factor which does not appear to have been taken into consideration. Currency differences will obviously have a big impact on border business, as will the fact that the majority of people living in the area actually work in the south.
“I put it to LPS that it would be better to have business open and paying a fairer rate rather than being forced to close and paying none at all. I also asked them to look at other possibilities, such as the fact that some public houses can have their rates based on their income rather than the current system.”
He said he was calling on all businesses in the area to unite and appeal these increases.
“I’m advising all businesses to appeal the District Valuer’s Revision of the Valuation List,” he said.
“There’s no point in taking a piecemeal approach to this. We need as many businesses as possible to take a stand and oppose these increases, otherwise that will be the rate set for at least the next 10 years. The last valuation was done in 2001.
“You can download valuation appeals from the LPS website, by calling 0300 200 7801 or by dropping into the Sinn Féin office in Crossmaglen.
“It’s important everyone gets involved in this campaign. If we do nothing border towns and villages will be turned into ghost towns.”
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