Contingency plans are being drawn up for this year’s rates bills in Northern Ireland, with the collection of £1.2bn in revenue facing a delay caused by the political crisis.
It is likely more than 500,000 household and business bills will not be issued on time in April.
The process has been hit by Stormont’s failure to agree a budget for 2017/2018.
The Department of Finance hopes bills will be issued by May or June.
Direct debit payments – currently made by around 270,000 people or businesses – will not be taken until after bills have been dispatched.
Normally, annual rates payments are spread over 10 months, from April to January.
Bills are being delayed because the regional rate has not been struck.
This is an outworking of the Stormont budget process.
There is a further complicating factor:
If there is no budget by the end of March, the permanent secretary at the department takes control.
But his powers do not extend to dealing with the regional rate.
So if there is no executive and assembly after an election, Westminster would have to step in with emergency legislation covering rates.
The department could tolerate – and is planning for – a few months’ delay.
But beyond that there would have to be intervention to collect more than £1bn of required revenue.
However, this year the period might instead run from May to February or June to March.
Land and Property Services, which collect rates for Stormont and 11 district councils, will clarify the situation in the coming weeks.
Rates income is roughly split evenly between Stormont and councils, who use it to pay for the likes of bin collections.
Councils receive their share monthly via the Department of Finance.
The department insists this will still happen from April – even if rates bills are not issued – so council services will not be impacted.