PEOPLE in Northern Ireland owe £160 million in unpaid rates.
And that figures has doubled in the last five years because of the recession and higher job losses
A report from the assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said the Land and Property Service (LPS) must look at every way of helping those in rate arrears to pay their debts.
In recent years, a further £53m worth of debt has been written off by LPS.
The PAC report said it was essential that those paying rates were not subsidising those who are avoiding paying them.
It also said that when the rating of empty homes was introduced in October 2011, the body responsible for collection, the LPS, did not know the ownership details of 10,000 vacant properties which mean no bill could be issued.
The report shows that the number of properties waiting for valuation at the end of March 2012 remained at over 26,000 and some alterations to domestic properties were taking more than two years to process.
PAC Chair Michaela Boyle MLA said: “The committee recognises that the recent recession has made recovering rate debt more difficult.
“In these challenging economic times, Land & Property Services (LPS) which is responsible for ensuring that rates are collected, must explore all ways to help ratepayers in arrears pay their debt.”
Ms Boyle said the PAC was also concerned about the level of fraud and error in housing benefit administered by LPS.
“It is significantly higher than for some other social security benefits – the figure of £4.2m included in the 2010-11 financial statements is truly shocking,” she said.
“LPS faces many challenges in the next few years. Welfare reform, non-domestic revaluation and the review of public administration will all affect its operation.
“A previous PAC report, published in November 2008, found that LPS experienced significant difficulties when major reforms last took place; if LPS is to meet the new challenges it will need to be better prepared.”
Land and Property Services is responsible for the billing and collection of rates on 840,000 properties in Northern Ireland.
Over £1bn was raised in rates revenue in 2011-12.