Council defends action on unpaid rates in Cork city

City officials in Cork have defended the timing of the issuing of more than 70 summonses for non-payment of commercial rates just weeks after the St Patrick’s St car ban controversy.

The city council insisted that the issuing of summonses is part of its normal collection procedure, that the quantity issued this month is in line with previous months, and that they are only issued after other avenues have been exhausted.

And it said the summonses issued recently are in relation to historic arrears, not 2018 rates.

Several traders, who asked not to be named, expressed concerns last week about the issuing of a raft of summonses so soon after traders led opposition against the council’s failed attempt to introduce a time-regulated bus lane on St Patrick’s St — the afternoon car ban.

One trader said City Hall “didn’t wait long” after their opposition forced the suspension of the new traffic management measure to “hit traders” with these summonses.

Fianna Fáil councillor Tim Brosnan said he would be seeking an explanation from officials about why so many had been issued, and he said he was prepared to stand with traders in court if he felt they were being treated unfairly.

However, the council robustly defended its policy over non-payment of commercial rates, and released figures which show that 460 such summonses were issued last year.

“This year to date, Cork City Council has issued 213. 75 summons were issued this month. In contrast, in September last year, 356 summons were issued,” it said in a statement.

A summons is only issued if, after exploring a number of avenues, the business owner is still not paying their arrears, it said.

And before a summons is sent, the rate payer is given a six-day notice by registered post, then a pre-summons letter, before eventually a summons is posted, it added.

The council said rates bills and regular reminders are standard practice throughout the year.

Traders or business owners liable for commercial rates are sent a rates bill each year, normally in February or March, setting out details of the charge, along with any outstanding arrears. The annual bill is payable in two instalments: when the bill is received and July 1.

A payment reminder is sent to ratepayers in April. A second reminder is sent in June, and the second six-monthly payment reminder is posted in July.

Further reminders may be issued throughout the year.

The council also pointed out that up to 1,500 rate- payers have availed of the council’s new rates incentive scheme so far this year.

The scheme makes a grant available to all compliant ratepayers when certain criteria are met.

The scheme is designed to support small and medium enterprises who represent more than half of all ratepayers, by reducing the overall amount of rates payable.

Figures released earlier this year showed that Cork City Council is owed almost €20m in unpaid rates.

A further €5.4m in commercial rates has been deemed irrecoverable.

The city council’s finance department said collection rates increased to 76% last year, but there are concerns that delays with the National Rates Valuation Office in valuing new developments is costing the city money in terms of lost rates revenue. Councillors have reported delays of up to 18 months.

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