Published in June 2018
1 Councillors' allowances
3 Additional information
4 Travel and subsistence allowances
5 Approved duties
6 Councillors' pension scheme
7 Electronic minutes system
8 Councillors' support services
9 Members' common room
10 Party rooms
13 Messages and enquiry service
14 Council stationery
15 Civic gifts
16 Research and information
17 Receiving constituents
18 Car parking
This Scheme is made under the Local Government (Payments to Councillors) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012.
Councillors’ allowances are governed by statute. Provision is made for these types of payments:
(i) Basic Allowance
(ii) Special Responsibility Allowance
(iii) Civic Dignitaries' Allowance
(iv) Dependants' Carers' Allowance
(v) District Policing and Community Safety Partnership Allowances (DPCSP)
In issuing the payment of allowances to elected members from 1 April 2018, the council will follow the instructions set out by the Department of Environment in ‘Guidance on Councillor Allowances’ March 2012 and further circular updates.1
Information regarding other provisions for councillors is also included in this report:
(i) IT and phone package
(ii) Councillors’ support services
A basic allowance is intended to recognise the time commitment of all councillors, including such inevitable calls on their time as meetings with officers and constituents and approved duties. Basic Allowance is also intended to cover incidental costs incurred by councillors in their official capacity, such as the use of their homes and the cost of any telephone calls, including mobile phone calls.
The annual allowance with effect from 1 April 2015 is £14,200 payable monthly. This allowance will be paid in equal monthly instalments by the council’s payroll and is subject to tax, National Insurance and pension deductions where applicable.
If a councillor ceases to be a councillor before the end of his or her term of office, payment of the allowance will cease and a pro rata calculation is made to ensure that the councillor receives the correct amount of allowance. If necessary, an adjustment for under or over payment may have to be made to ensure that the final payment is correct, and the council reserves the right to recover any overpayments of basic allowance.
The council also pays Special Responsibility Allowances to those councillors it considers to have significant, additional responsibilities over and above the generally accepted duties of a councillor. These special responsibilities are related to the discharge of the council's functions.
The maximum rate of Special Responsibility Allowance is determined by the Department of the Environment. The division of the Special Responsibility Allowance is based upon the positions held by individual councillors as agreed.
- The council agreed a special responsibility allowance threshold of £108,000 which may be paid to holders of positions of responsibility. No more than 50 per cent of the councillors can receive a special responsibility payment and no individual member can receive more than one special responsibility payment from this overall budget.2
Special Responsibility Allowance is paid in equal, monthly instalments. Special Responsibility Allowances are liable for tax, National Insurance and pension deductions where applicable.
In the event of a councillor ceasing to hold an office which entitled him or her to receive a Special Responsibility Allowance before the term of office is completed, payment of the allowance ceases. If necessary, an adjustment for under or overpayment may have to be made to ensure that the final payment is correct, and the council reserves the right to recover any overpayments of Special Responsibility Allowance.
Rates of special responsibility allowances for 2018-2019 are:
|Party group leader||Sinn Fein (19 members)||£6,883.21|
|DUP (13 members)||£5,751.67|
|Alliance (8 members)||£4,808.72|
|SDLP (7 members)||£4,620.13|
|UUP (7 members)||£4,620.13|
|PUP (3 members)||£3,865.77|
|Deputy party group leader||Sinn Fein||£3,300|
|Party secretary||Sinn Fein||£3,300|
Allowances in 2018-2019 for committee positions
|Chairman’s allowance||Strategic Policy and Resources||£6,883.21|
|City Growth and Regeneration||£6,883.21|
|People and Communities||£6,883.21|
|Belfast Waterfront and Ulster Hall||£3,300.00|
|Deputy Chairman's allowance||Strategic Policy and Resources||£3,300.00|
|City Growth and Regeneration||£3,300.00|
|People and Communities||£3,300.00|
|Belfast Waterfront and Ulster Hall||£1,650.00|
Section 32 of the Finance Act provides that a council may pay to the Civic such allowances as it considers reasonable to meet the expenses of those offices and they should be considered totally separate from SRA arrangements.
The Civic Dignitary Personal Allowances are paid in equal, monthly instalments and are liable for tax, National Insurance and pension deductions where applicable.
The entitlement for the financial year 2018-2019 is:
- Lord Mayor £34,800
- Deputy Lord Mayor £6,250
- High Sheriff £6,250
Any member who is the main carer of a dependant, where care is required to enable that member to perform an approved duty may claim Dependants' Carers' Allowance (DCA). The rate for Standard Care is based on the hourly national living wage for age 25 or over, and the rate for Specialised Care is double the rate for Standard Care. Rates from 1 April 2018 are:
- Standard Care - £7.83 per hour limited to £407.16 per month
- Specialist Care - £15.66 per hour limited to £814.32 per month
A dependant is defined as:
- a child 15-years old or under
- a child over 15 years-old or older, where there is medical or social work evidence that full-time care is required
- an adult with recognised physical or mental disability where there is medical or social work evidence that full-time care is required
- an elderly relative requiring full-time care.
For the purposes of this allowance, a carer is defined as a responsible person over 16 years old who does not normally live with the councillor as part of that household; and is not a parent or guardian of the dependant.
A specialist carer is a qualified person who is needed where it is essential to have professional assistance.
Receipts must be obtained from specialist carers and must accompany the claim form. Councillors may claim only once for each instance of childcare or carer service.
Councillors must disclose any financial support provided under DCA, when applying for other care services offered by another public body.
To claim this allowance, the councillor is asked to fill in the relevant form available from Democratic Services along with receipts or signature from the carer.
The process includes flexibility to allow for care to include the duration of essential travel time, councillors may claim for a period starting up to a maximum of one hour before the approved duty starts and ending up to one hour after it finishes.
Councillors must disclose any financial support provided under DCA, when applying for other care services offered by another public body.
This allowance is paid to councillors who are members of the District Policing and Community Safety Partnership. Each councillor is entitled to claim £60 per attendance at each meeting and may claim for up to a maximum of 20 meetings a year. Each member can also claim for mileage for attending each meeting directly from DPCSP.
Chairpersons of each DPCSPs are entitled to claim for an additional 10 meetings per year of the DPCSP. In addition the Chairperson of the 4 DCPSPs also sit on the Belfast Policing and Community Safety Partnership (PCSP) and are entitled to claim for up to 20 meetings per year of this partnership.
Councillors may, if they wish, renounce their entitlement to basic, chairperson, vice chairperson or special responsibility allowances. They can do this by writing to the Chief Executive. A councillor can subsequently withdraw the renunciation. They can also amend a renunciation (for example, to limit it to one kind of allowance only). The withdrawal or amendment cannot have retrospective effect.
All claims for travel and subsistence should be submitted within three months. Any claims made outside this time limit cannot be processed.
Motor mileage claims
The rates of Travel and Subsistence Allowances, including motor mileage and pedal cycle rates, are reviewed annually by the Department for Communities, following consultation with the Northern Ireland Joint Council for Local Government Services.
Claims can only be made where expenditure is incurred by councillors undertaking approved duties.
Travel claim forms are prepared and circulated for councillors’ attention at the beginning of each month and include details of council and committee meetings attended during the previous month. These are available to submit via hard copy or online via the Expenses app. It is a matter for each individual councillor to ensure that the details are accurate and amend the claim form to include any other approved duties in respect of which they may be entitled to make a travel claim.
In some instances mileage claims may be liable for tax and National Insurance deductions. An awareness session will be held for members on taxation issues relating to expenses and mileage claims.
The rates in this table are currently in use, with most councillors getting the maximum amount of 65.0p per mile.
|Mileage||Motor car||Electric car|
|0-8,500 miles||450-999cc 46.9p
1199cc and over 65.0p
|After 8,500 miles||450-999cc 13.7p
1199cc and over 16.4p
Other Mileage Claims
Please contact Democratic Services for public transport, pedal cycle, motor cycle or passenger travel allowance rates.
If councillors attend conferences, courses or undertake visits as representatives of the council they are entitled to receive appropriate subsistence allowances.
Before a councillor attends an event, they must obtain committee approval. Councillors may also attend approved events as part of their personal development plan (PDP).
Any hotel or travel arrangements for conferences are made by the council departments concerned.
Councillors should take a careful note and keep receipts for any expenses they incur while they are away on council business because they may be able to claim for these as part of their subsistence allowances or as incidental expenses. This relates to such things as meals, bus and taxi fares or necessary telephone calls.
Within the UK
This table shows the rates of subsistence that should be adhered to:
|Maximum subsistence rates||British Isles||London|
|Total meal allowance||£50.65|
Departments will assist councillors in the completion of claim forms. Councillors should make contact with an appropriate officer immediately upon returning from the conference to give details of additional expenses incurred and to sign the necessary claim forms.
The rates for subsistence allowance are determined by the Department for Communities. There are differences in the subsistence arrangements for conferences which take place outside the United Kingdom.
Claims without receipts should rarely happen. However, councillors must use the ‘Lost or unobtainable receipt voucher’ to claim reimbursement for expenditure they have incurred when no receipt is available.
Outside the UK
For travel outside the British Isles, the council will pay advanced subsistence at the rate of £75.00 per 24-hour period, or £45 per part day.
Under the existing regulations councillors are entitled to claim expenses in relation to an approved duty. An approved duty may be defined as:
(a) attendance at a meeting of the council or any of its committees
(b) attendance approved by the council for the purpose of, or in connection with, the discharge of the functions of the council.
No real problems arise under (a), but it should be pointed out that councillors would normally only be paid expenses (travelling allowance) for attending committees to which they have been appointed. A councillor will be paid for attending a meeting of a committee to which he or she has not been appointed if he or she is attending at the invitation of the committee concerned or has been sent by another committee to state a particular case.
Such difficulties as have arisen have mainly been concerned with the interpretation of the term “approved duty”. The Department for Communities has issued guidance on what duties, apart from attendance at council or Committee meetings, should be considered as approved duties. These activities include:
- attendance by appointed councillors at meetings of advisory or liaison committees' Steering Groups or Working Groups
- attendance at approved conferences, courses, study visits or seminars as a representative of the council
- attendance by appointed councillors at meetings of PCSPs and DPCSPs
- attendance by appointed councillors at meetings of community centre committees
- attendance on a council or committee deputation relevant to the functions of the council
- attendance by appointed councillors at meetings of outside bodies.
This list is by no means exhaustive and the council has also agreed that training courses and general briefing sessions should also be considered as approved duties. In addition, the council’s Chief Executive can authorise as approved duties certain miscellaneous functions.
In relation to the attendance of councillors at meetings of outside bodies, the question of whether or not payment of expenses (travel or subsistence) are appropriate is determined by the functions exercised by the bodies concerned. If these relate to the statutory functions of the council, expenses would be paid. If they do not, no payments would be made. In addition, expenses cannot be claimed where remuneration is made to the councillor from the outside body to which he or she has been appointed.
From May 2009, councillors are enabled to participate in the Northern Ireland Local Government Officers' Superannuation Scheme (NILGOSC). The main purpose of the scheme is to provide a pension in retirement for councillors. The benefits paid under the scheme are based on length of membership of the scheme and career average pensionable pay.
The pensionable pay of a councillor consists of the Basic Allowance and Special Responsibility Allowance payments only. The contribution rate depends on how much each councillor is paid but will be between 5.5 per cent and 7.5 per cent of the pensionable allowances received.
Useful information on treatment of tax for councillors could be found on HMRC's Employment income manual (link opens in a new window).
(c) Additional information
(i) IT and phone package
Personal computer equipment can be provided by the council to each councillor on the basis that the council owns the equipment and lends it to those councillors who request it.
Councillors' IT package currently consists of:
- tablet PC or laptop (with case)
- all-in-one printer (printer, fax and scanner)
Mobile phones are also provided to councillors under the terms of a council contract.
Tablet PC or laptop
Each councillor is entitled to receive a tablet PC or laptop for their duration as a member of Belfast City Council. The device is provided by the council to assist councillors in undertaking their role more effectively. The main benefits are having online access to the council's minutes system and other council apps wherever they are, and to engage more effectively with constituents.
Broadband internet access
In order to encourage councillors to use the council’s IT system remotely (from home or office), councillors may claim part of their home broadband internet rental costs (maximum £25 per month). To encourage councillors to use the council’s IT system remotely (from home or office), councillors may claim part of their home broadband internet rental costs (maximum £25 per month).
As with phone line rental reimbursement, councillors are required to pay the cost of the broadband in the first instance and, having submitted the appropriate bill, will then be reimbursed up to £25.00, subject to any tax deductions being applied through the council’s payroll.
Access to the council’s systems is provided by a virtual private network (VPN). Councillors should speak to officers in Democratic Services to have the VPN set up on their computer.
Mobile telephone costs
Each councillor will be offered the use of a mobile phone for the duration they remain a councillor of Belfast City Council. The device is available for upgrade periodically.
The council will cover the cost of line rental which includes:
(a) the cost of all phone calls to UK landlines or UK mobile phones whilst within the UK
(b) the cost of all text messages to UK landlines or UK mobile phones whilst within the UK
(c) 4GB of data usage per month.
All costs incurred by calls, texts or data usage outside of that detailed, are met by the councillor and will be deducted the following month from the councillor’s basic allowance.
Hands free mobile phone equipment
The council will contribute towards the cost of purchase and installation of hands free mobile phone equipment for use in councillors’ cars on the basis:
- reimbursement will be for installation costs of the equipment in the councillor’s own private vehicle and shall be subject to the submission of appropriate receipts
- maximum amount of reimbursement on each occasion is £250.
The council may meet the costs of basic monthly or quarterly line rental of the home telephone of each councillor. Councillors are required to pay the rental cost in the first instance and, having submitted the telephone bill, will then be reimbursed this amount, subject to any tax deductions being applied through the council’s payroll system.
The Department for Communities has determined that the councillor’s Basic Allowance covers incidental expenses involved in being a councillor, such as the use of a home telephone, it is therefore not possible to reimburse the cost of telephone calls made on a landline.
The electronic minutes system is accessible on the council’s website as well as the corporate intranet. The purpose of the system is to have a range of information relating to councillors and the council’s decision-making process in one place.
The system allows councillors and the public to:
- view the schedule of meetings
- access agendas, reports and minutes of council, committees and working group meetings
- search for historical decisions.
The system is also used to alert councillors that committee summonses, agenda, minutes and reports have been published and, when any amendments or changes have taken place. Councillors can then access electronically.
If Councillors would like a demonstration of the system and how it can be of benefit and provide support in undertaking their council related business please contact a staff member in Democratic Services.
The council provides councillors with a wide range of support services to assist them in carrying out their work as councillors. Support services include typing of correspondence, post, message and enquiry services, council stationery, research service, room bookings, councillors' training, travel arrangements, expenses and subsistence payments and general enquiries.
The Members’ Common Room is located at the reception area of the City Hall, adjacent to the committee rooms. Individual mail boxes are located in this room. Fruit, tea, coffee and daily papers are provided for councillors. The Members’ Attendant is responsible during office hours for facilities in this area. They will take messages and provide general assistance to councillors.
In addition to the Members’ Common Room, the council provides party rooms for each of the main political party groups within the council. These may be used for meetings, work or discussions with constituents.
All accommodation and facilities provided are for use in connection with council or constituency-business only.
In addition to a conference table, fax machine, printer, scanner, television, tea and coffee machine and filing space, each party room has computer facilities which are supplied with standard office software and access to the council’s modern.gov system.
Items for typing may be left with Democratic Services, where a confidential secretarial service is available for letters, reports and all other correspondence related to council or constituency work. After typing, letters will be left in the appropriate mail box or retained for collection in the office.
A postal service is available for correspondence which relates to council or constituency work.
Letters must be addressed to individuals living within the city boundary although letters to public bodies and government departments with addresses outside the city will also be accepted. Circularised mail will not be accepted.
Councillors can also be provided with prepaid envelopes for use in their routine correspondence to constituents. Please speak to Democratic Services to request an allocation of prepaid envelopes.
Postal facilities are not available for party political issues.
Outgoing post, internal and external, may be left in Democratic Services or the Members’ Common Room.
Democratic Services staff act as a point of contact for all enquiries and telephone messages concerning councillors from the public, constituents and council officers.
The telephones in the party rooms are set to divert to staff on no reply and telephone messages for councillors will be taken by staff. Urgent messages will be relayed immediately to councillors, if contact is possible, and other messages will be emailed or left in their mail boxes.
Personalised headed-paper, compliment slips and business cards with the council logo will be provided for each councillor during their term of office. Standard council stationery items are also available in the Members’ Common Room.
A limited range of Belfast City Council-branded gifts is available for use by councillors. The gifts are intended for VIP guests to City Hall or for special individuals or groups which a councillor wishes to recognise. Councillors may also request civic gifts when visiting special individuals or groups when on council business in other countries. When requesting civic gifts, the councillor must sign a receipt of goods. A database of issued gifts is maintained.
Democratic Services staff will be available to assist councillors in obtaining information and carrying out research on items related to council and constituency business.
Councillors often make arrangements to receive constituents or visitors. If a councillor is not in attendance to receive such persons, the receptionists will ask them to wait in the reception area at the main entrance hall. Visitors will not be permitted access to party rooms unless accompanied by a councillor.
Councillors have access to the City Hall car park. A pass for display in councillors' vehicles will be provided by Democratic Services. Car parking for guests of councillors is limited. However, if this is required, please contact Democratic Services staff. The visitor's name and the make, model and registration number of their vehicle will be required for the purposes of admittance by security staff.
The Atrium Restaurant in the Cecil Ward Building, 4-10 Linenhall Street is available for councillors to use. Councillors may bring a small number of guests with them when dining in the restaurant.
Footnote 1 Further details are available within the DOE Circular No. LG 04/2015 (24 February 2015), LG 09/2014 (20 March 2014), LG 14/2016 (6 July 16) and LG 23/2016 (14 December 2016)
Footnote 2 DOE Circular LG04/2015. See also council minutes in September 2016.