07 October 2005

BBC NEWS | Northern Ireland | Orange halls get rates exemption


Orange halls are going to be among the community buildings in Northern Ireland exempt from paying rates, the government has announced.

The plans to change the way rates are calculated will come into effect in April 2007.

The halls will be eligible for the exemption as long as they are not bases for registered clubs and do not have a liquor license.

NIO Minister Jeff Rooker said it is for places without a regular income.

"It isn't just Orange halls, it's community halls, which includes Orange halls," Lord Rooker said.

"It is conditional on them being available for use by the wider community, that they don't have a liquor license and are not being occupied by a registered club.

"If they are doing any of these things they will have a regular stream of income and can afford to pay their rates."

The plans were announced as part of a 12-week consultation period on the review of the rating system in Northern Ireland which was launched on Friday

Lord Rooker said plans to make the system fairer "by basing rate bills on the capital value of your home from April 2007" are well under way.

"It is essential ratepayers have as much information as early as possible, given the fundamental changes we are making," he said.

Capital values of all Northern Ireland homes will be published in April 2006.

'Fairer system'

"The draft order represents a key milestone on the path to making the rating system fairer, a process started by the former Northern Ireland Executive in 2000," he said.

The reforms include the new rate relief scheme for those on low incomes, transitional arrangements over a three-year period and a new independent valuation tribunal.

"They will be given effect through a second order in council, to be brought forward next year."

Stressing the need for change, he said: "Reform is vital to bring the domestic rating system into the 21st century. We need to make it fairer and easier for ratepayers to understand.

"The new capital values will achieve this. It is almost 30 years since domestic property in Northern Ireland was last re-valued. Delay is therefore not an option."

On Thursday, DUP leader Ian Paisley said he received assurances about the plans to exempt Orange halls from rates during his talks in Downing Street.

Sinn Fein assembly member John O'Dowd has said any moves on the introduction of rate exemptions for non-profit making organisations should be applied across the board.

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