Rate relief removal queried

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UUP Councillor Robbie Butler has called on the DUP Minister for Finance and Personnel to provide a reason why much-needed Agricultural Rate Relief has been removed from so many premises in each of the last three years.

Councillor Butler branded the removal of the rate relief as “a total debacle”. He asked the question after the issue was raised with him by “a very concerned constituent”.

Councillor Butler added: “This was where an active farmer was being challenged to produce his farm accounts by Land and Property Services to prove his farm income was such that he was still eligible for the rate relief.

“We cannot allow this debacle over Agricultural Rate Relief to cause further hardship to our much-needed farming families across the Lagan Valley region.

“Taking the whole of Northern Ireland, Finance Minister Foster has already informed the UUP that in the financial year 1 April 2012 to 31 March 2013, the Agricultural Rate Relief was removed on 735 occasions.

“In the years 2013/2014 and 2014/2015, it was removed on 1,381 and 1,118 occasions respectively. From 1 April 2015 to 13 October 2015, it was removed 614 times.

“To be eligible for the rate relief, at least 50 per cent of a farmer’s income must come from farming, but in these difficult financial times where farming income is falling, there are some instances where that threshold is not being met.

“I feel very strongly that it is unwarranted that Land and Property Services should be targeting those households who are already finding it financially difficult to survive by increasing their rates bill.

“In the figures provided, there are some reasonable explanations why the relief could be removed, such as the house has become vacant or the occupier has changed and the new occupier is not primarily engaged in agricultural operations on the land.”