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028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Changes to income assessment rules for rates rebate

New regulations have been laid which will amend the income assessment rules for rates relief. The Rate Relief (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 are in response to the COVID-19 crisis, and the explanatory memorandum makes reference to a wider "ongoing policy development" of the rates relief scheme. The new regulations will come into effect on 4 January 2021.

The regulations change the income calculation for people who are applying for a rates rebate after being made redundant. The effect of these regulations is to disallow the following payments as income, when working out someone's entitlement to rates relief:

  • holiday pay for days not taken due to redundancy
  • payment of salary made in lieu of notice.

The onus is on the ratepayer to provide evidence to the Department to show that their earned income includes amounts which should be disallowed. The ratepayer will normally have 3 months from the date of application to provide this evidence.

Backdated claims for review

These regulations also mean that a person who made a claim for rates rebate on or after 28 March 2020 can now ask for a revision of the award if the income used to calculate entitlement at the time included payments for holidays not taken due to redundancy or payments made in lieu of a notice period. A claimant will have 3 months from the date these new regulations commence to ask for this revision. That gives them until 3 April 2021. 

Issues with payments of rates

When a person applies for a rates rebate, the information used to calculate their entitlement to Universal Credit determines their entitlement to help with rates for the coming year. It is of grave concern to Housing Rights that the system does not typically allow an award of rates rebate to be revised if a person then suffers a significant decrease in their income. It is common for a person who applies for Universal Credit to have a final payment of salary in their first assessment period. 

Example: Amy is made redundant from her job as a waitress. She claims Universal Credit, but her final salary of £1200 means she only gets a small payment from UC in her first month. The following month she has no earned income, and receives her full Universal Credit payment. Amy applies for rates rebate. Her entitlement for the coming 12 months is calculated using her income from the first Universal Credit assessment period. This means she has to pay the majority of rates herself for the next year, despite having no income except for her Universal Credit.  

These regulations do not go far enough to help people like Amy.  The new rules will allow Amy to ask for her rates rebate claim to be reviewed, but the decision maker can only disregard any payments made to cover unworked notice periods and untaken holidays. Her base monthly salary will still determine her entitlement for the coming year.

We would encourage anyone who is struggling to pay rates because they have lost their job to contact our helpline. 

Tagged In

Coronavirus, Legislation
This article was written on 14 December 2020. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.