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Rates waiver extended, Minister pledges €600m to offset nationwide council losses

County Hall
County Hall, Dundalk. Photo Credit: Adrian Crawley.

The commercial rates ‘holiday’, brought in earlier this year to assist businesses affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown, has been extended until the end of September, Minister for Housing, Planning & Local Government, Darragh O’Brien has confirmed. A fund of €600 million will also offset any losses incurred by local authorities from loss of rates.

The move comes as part of the Government’s €5 billion stimulus plan announced this afternoon (Thursday July 23). The initial three-month waiver began was introduced in May and was backdated to the end of March. The extension of a waiver for ratepayers has now been extended to September 27.

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“The Government is committed to supporting businesses while also making sure our local authorities continue to provide vital services to the public,” the Minister said in a statement. “Today, I can confirm that commercial rates for those businesses forced to close due to public health requirements will be waived for a six-month period. To support local authorities in the continued delivery of services and in their ongoing response to the COVID-19 crisis, this cost, expected to be approximately €600 million, will be met by the Exchequer.”

“The Government supports the vital work of our local authorities. Whether it is storm, blizzard or pandemic, our city and county councils are always there to provide the public with the key services they require. In these extraordinary times, when our economy closed, our local authorities remained open for business, ensuring vital public health measures and ongoing public service were provided. Today’s announcement of a six-month waiver for commercial rates will ensure that local authorities can continue to provide these services into the future.”

“Local authorities will also play a vital role in regenerating the post-COVID local economies and will engage with ratepayers to offer enterprise support, relevant to their circumstances. Details of the scheme will be further developed by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.”

On Monday, Louth County Council Chief Executive Joan Martin outlined the state-of-play to assembled councillors at the July monthly meeting of the local authority in which she said that the impact of Covid-19 lockdown had a significant impact on the council’s coffers. She told councillors she will once again propose raising the Local Property Tax by 15% this year in a bid to increase revenue.

Martin confirmed to the meeting that no money originally promised to help offset the costs of lost rates had been forthcoming as of yet. “That money has not been paid by any Department to councils. Negotiations on that are still ongoing,” she said.

“I’d be optimistic that we get the bulk of that money [but] we are facing very large potential losses on rates across the rest of the year.”  While the rates holiday has been extended to six months, some councillors, including Fianna Fáil’s James Byrne, have called on the rates deferral to be extended as long as 12-months.

Martin was among the council top brass who had taken part in a conference call with Minister O’Brien last Thursday. “He fully understands the financial challenge,” she said. “He is a former councillor. He knows how tight it is.”

Martin said that all 32 Chief Executives from around the country speak on a weekly basis, with finance and health and safety among the primary topics for conversation. “Finance is being worked on nationally.”

Among the businesses who the rates waiver do not apply to are banks, building societies and supermarkets bigger than 500m2 – while vacant properties are also not eligible for the ‘holiday’.

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