Saturday, 15 March 2014

At least Dick Turpin wore a mask!

A few weeks ago a friend of mine rang me deeply distressed about a letter she received in respect of her domestic rates bill. The letter instructed her to attend a court hearing regarding her non-payment of rates.

Rates are a type of property tax which provide funding for public services. Rate payments are levied between district councils and central government. I should mention that this girl in particular missed payments which totalled just over £200 due to unforeseen circumstances. My friend's dilemma led me to seek information through Freedom of Information Legislation on the level of rate arrears across the Derry City Council area.

The 2011 census stated that Derry had 40,779 households, so keeping that figure in mind here is the information I received:

As at 31st March 2013, a total of 6,241 Domestic Occupancies in the Derry District Council area had some rating debt outstanding.
In 2012/13 a total of 2,146 processes in Debt Proceedings were issued to Domestic ratepayers in the Derry District Council area.

In 2012/13 a total of 1,145 Decrees in Debt judgements were made in relation to Domestic ratepayers in the Derry District Council area.

With over 15% of people in the city in debt because of their rates I would question the audacity of Derry City Council in announcing a rate increase of 2.58%, this being the most recent in a succession of rates increases year on year for the past 5 years. Derry City Council have tried to put a positive spin on this by declaring, it works out at approximately £20 of an increase per house.

A £20 increase may seem trivial to those in council but in this town where every third child is living below the breadline this money can be the difference between children having dinner and going without, it's a weeks electricity, or in some households two pairs of shoes.

'In-work poverty now outstrips workless poverty'

In a 2012 Joseph Rowntree Foundation report “Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion in Northern Ireland” there was an examination on the impact of the economic downturn on households in Northern Ireland since 2009.
The report stated that half of the 120,000 children living in poverty are living in households with at least one working parent. It also highlighted how over a fifth of NI pensioners are living in poverty and how the number of retired households living in poverty had increased from 55,000 to 70,000. 
The annual 'Monitoring Poverty' report, written by the New Policy Institute (NPI) states that 6.1 million people in poverty are in working households. Excluding pensioners, in-work poverty now outstrips workless poverty at 5.1 million households. 
According to new research the lowest earning 10% of the population here in Northern Ireland have experienced consumer price inflation of 40% in the decade up to 2013 which is an estimated £1000 annually. So those in council who feel this increase is only a mere £20 should maybe add this £20 to the £1000 cost of living increase and keep in mind that as the cost of everything rises the wages and benefits remain the same. I wonder when striking their rate did DCC consider the 300,000 households in Northern Ireland in Fuel Poverty? Shocking figures show 70% of people in Northern Ireland cut back on food to pay energy bills?

Two weeks ago (2nd March 2014) figures were released that 41% of Northern Ireland homeowners (mortgage payer) are living in negative equity. In the recent BBC report it said that about 68,000 people in Northern Ireland are struggling to cope with mortgage payments. So again why rise Rate payments?

Whilst people who are in domestic rates arrears are home owners  this increase may also mean an increase in housing rents. People living in rental properties pay rates through their rent, so if their cash payment or housing benefit falls short of this estimated 2.58% this could mean they will have to raise the extra money to meet the shortfall.

Derry is an unemployment blackspot with 8.6% of the population reliant on Job seekers allowance. The promises of how the UK City of Culture would bring an estimated 3000 jobs have since been proved a nonsense. Conal McFeely of Creggan Enterprises told the BBC "Whilst we had great marketing around City of Culture it has had no impact on jobs, The jobs situation has actually got worse.”

When the rates increase was announced it was revealed that the annual subvention at the City of Derry Airport would be increased by 4.7%. The city of Derry Airport currently receives an annual subvention of £2 million. In attempt to make this revelation palatable SDLP councillor Gerard Diver said it was the first rise in a number of years.

Last year it was feared that jobs could be lost at City of Derry Airport as the UK City of Culture celebrations made "no significant impact" on passenger numbers. The airport director Damien Tierney said "2014 will likely be problematic as I think we will lose anumber of flights in the summer period." Yet Derry City council increase the subvention by 4.7%.

In the run up to the the city of culture Derry City Council in conjunction with the DOE established the 'DERELICTION IMPROVEMENT SCHEME'. This scheme was set up to disguise the wreckage known as the economy, some of this saw buildings in the city centre receiving face-lifts, other properties had false fa├žades put on them to disguise the fact they were derelict or in disrepair. 

I have personally have no problem with rates relief being given to small struggling businesses or money being spent  that will benefit us long-term however I do have an issue with money being spent to cover over the cracks. When reading through the figures on the DERELICTION IMPROVEMENT SCHEME one figure in particular caught my attention. This figure was in reference to the money spent on clearing the former Tillie & Henderson factory site which was demolished in 2003 due to safety concerns, without permission, following a series of fires.

The 90 Million Pound Man
The Tillie and Henderson site is owned by none other than Lord Rana one of Northern Ireland's best-known businessmen. Rana who has an estimated personal wealth of 90 MILLION POUNDS  had plans to build a hotel on the site. Yet Derry City council from our pockets paid £80,675.30 to clear what was technically Lord Rana's mess. And if it wasn't bad enough that ratepayers money was used to tidy up Lord Rana's mess. In 2011 multi millionaire Rana said that the development of the Tillie and Henderson site was 'dependent on funding from Invest Northern Ireland.' 

If a council litter warden catches you dropping litter you get fined somewhere in the region of £75 and if you're £200 behind with your rates you can be taken to court. In contrast if you allow a landmark building to go to wreck & ruin a building which is then demolished for public safety at the expense at the tax payer you qualify for over EIGHTY THOUSAND POUNDS of ratepayers money to clean up your mess. Must be great to be a millionaire Lord!!!!

Here's some more food for thought!
Cast your mind back to the Olympic torch procession through the city and the party that followed. This cost the ratepayer a massive £80,902, this does not include policing costs.

The Clipper Round the World yacht race visited the city in 2012, but the city's Mayor and council officials are still being sent to the various port the race is going to this is costing the ratepayer £76,000.

Former Westlife star Shane Filan was paid a massive £10,000 for his appearance at the first City of Culture legacy event which involved him singing two songs.
And lets not forget a study by Price Waterhouse Cooper found that "significantly more" of Derry City Council's staff earned more than £50,000 per year than in other "similarly-sized" councils.

Derry City Council guaranteed Ryanair more than One Million Pounds in a five year marketing agreement to fly into City of Derry Airport. Something they tried to hide and ended up in court after defying an information commissioner ruling that the information was in the public interest.

This is the same Derry City Council which paid more than FIVE MILLION POUNDS to buy and demolish 17 homes next to City of Derry Airport to make way for a runway safety extension, that was never built.

It would seem money is no object to Derry City Council, especially when they're spending ratepayers money. These days I manage my money carefully prioritising the important things which is no easy task given that the cost of essentials has increased, yet it would appear my rates are being spent recklessly by my local council who now require an extra 2.58%. The only difference between Derry City Council and Dick Turpin is Mr Turpin had the decency to wear a mask when he demanded money from people.


A Derry Mother AKA ratepayer!


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