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Local authorities haven't collected over €355 million owed to them
In 2012, arrears increased by €33 million, or approximately 10 per cent, compared to 2011, where rates arrears came to €323 million.

LOCAL AUTHORITIES FAILED to collect over €355 million in commercial rates in 2012, new figures have revealed.

Commercial rates are rates paid by businesses and those with commercial properties to local authorities. They vary depending on how highly the property is valued by a central government agency, the Valuation Office.

In 2012, arrears increased by €33 million, or approximately 10 per cent, compared to 2011, where rates arrears came to €323 million.

Despite this €1.137 billion was collected by local authorities in 2012, out of a possible €1.493 billion up for collection. This meant that the overall percentage of rates collected was 76 per cent, down 8 per cent from 2009, when collection rates stood at 84 per cent.

The issue of declining rates collections was something highlighted in the audit reports for most city and county councils in the country in 2012, and has also been raised in several annual audit reports.

Limerick City Council and Louth County Council were tied for the lowest collection rates. Both authorities collected just 55 per cent of commercial rates each, with auditors for Louth County Council saying that the decline in collections is “a serious matter for the Council to address”.

The issue was also noted in the audit report for Limerick City Council. The Limerick City Manager cited the economic downturn as a reason for the decrease, and also said: “In certain cases, legal recovery of the debt is being pursued where customers have failed to agree or not adhered to previously agreed payment plans.”

A spokeswoman for Limerick City Council said that it is “hoped collection rates in both Limerick City and County would improve over the coming year as economic conditions begin to stabilise.”

‘Difficult economic times’

Offaly County Council was the best performing local authority, maintaining a collection rate of 92 per cent from 2011. However, the €7.7 million in rates that Offaly CC were liable to collect was far less than many other local authorities, such as Fingal County Council which was liable to collect €133.7 million.

Only three of the 34 local authorities had any increase in rates collections, while 25 reported decreases. The most dramatic drop, of 8 per cent, was in Leitrim County Council, from 72 per cent of rates collected in 2011 to 64 per cent in 2011.

A spokesman for the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government said: “It isn’t really for the department to offer an explanation on this.”

However, he did add: “We have been through difficult economic times and the global financial crisis and ensuing recession must have played a major part in that [the drop in rates collection].”

Donegal County Council was the local authority who saw the biggest jump in collection of rates, from 57 per cent to 62 per cent collected. However, auditors noted that “The increase in collection yields are also as a result of very significant write offs in these areas.”

The amount of commercial rates written off by local authorities has increased significantly. Whereas in 2011 write off rates amounted to €91 million, in 2012 this number jumped to €143 million.

Of all the local authorities, Dublin City Council wrote off the most, almost €37 million, while Kildare CC wrote off the most of any of the county councils, €10.49 million.

The spokesman for the Department of the Environment refused to comment on the increase in write offs, saying: “The writing off of rates is a matter for individual local authorities.”

Read: No decision made on who will collect commercial water charges under Irish Water

Read: Councils take €311 million hit as commercial rates are written off

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