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Scheme of allowances payable to councillors 2020-2021

Published in 2020

Contents

Councillors' allowances
Expenses
Additional information
Disqualification
Suspension
Travel and subsistence allowances
Public transport
Approved duties
Tax
Councillors' pension scheme
Electronic minutes system
Councillors' support services
Members' common room
Party rooms
Correspondence
Post
Messages and enquiry service
Council stationery
Civic gifts
Research and information
Receiving constituents
Car parking
Restaurant

This scheme is made under Part 3 of the Local Government Finance Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 and the Local Government (Payments to councillors) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2019 and will take effect from 1 April 2020.

Councillors' allowances

Councillors’ allowances are governed by statute and provision is made for the following types of payments: 

(a) Allowances

(i) Basic Allowance
(ii) Special Responsibility Allowance
(iii) Civic Dignitaries' Allowance
(iv) Dependants' Carers' Allowance
(v) District Policing and Community Safety Partnership Allowances (DPCSP)
(vi) Renunciations
(vii) Disqualification or suspension of a councillor

(b) Expenses

(i)Travel
(ii) Subsistence

In issuing the payment of allowances to elected members the council follows the instructions set out by the Department of Environment in ‘Guidance on Councillor Allowances’ March 2012 and further circular updates.

Information regarding other provisions for councillors is also included:

(c) Additional information

(i) IT/phone package
(ii) Councillors’ support services

Allowances

(i) Basic Allowance

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 maximum annual allowance with effect from 7 May 2019 is £15,071 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 be made to ensure that the final payment is correct, and the council reserves the right to recover any overpayments of basic allowance.

In circumstances where a councillor is wholly suspended from carrying out the duties of a councillor in accordance with section 59(5) of the Local Government Act (NI) 2014, the whole of the basic allowance payable to the councillor in respect of the period for which the councillor is suspended shall be withheld.

In circumstances where a councillor is wholly suspended from carrying out the duties of a councillor in accordance with section 60(1) (Decisions on Interim Reports) of the Local Government Act (NI) 2014, the whole of the basic allowance payable to the councillor in respect of the period for which the councillor is suspended shall be withheld, subject to the provision that the allowance withheld shall be payable to the councillor concerned should the final adjudication of the Commissioner for Standards exonerate the councillor concerned.

In circumstances where a councillor is partially suspended from carrying out the duties of a councillor in accordance with section 59(5) or section 60(1) of the Local Government Act (NI) 2014, the basic allowance payable to the councillor in respect of the period for which the councillor is partially suspended shall continue.

(ii) Special Responsibility Allowances

In addition to 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 for Communities. 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.

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 with effect from 7 May 2019 for committees are:

Position Committee Allowance
Chairman’s allowance Strategic Policy and Resources £5,800
City Growth and Regeneration £5,800
People and Communities £5,800
Licensing £5,800
Planning £5,800
Belfast Waterfront and Ulster Hall £2,900
Deputy Chairman's allowance Strategic Policy and Resources £2,900
City Growth and Regeneration £2,900
People and Communities £2,900
Licensing £2,900
Planning £2,900
Belfast Waterfront and Ulster Hall £1,450

Rates of Special Responsibility Allowances with effect from 7 May 2019 for party leaders and secretaries are:

Position Party Allowance
Party group leader Sinn Fein (18 members) £5,734.94
DUP (15 members) £5,312.45
Alliance (10 members) £4,608.30
SDLP (6 members) £4,044.98
Green (4 members) £3,763.32
PBPA (3 members) £3,622.49
UUP (2 members) £3,481.66
PUP (2 members) £3,481.66
Deputy party group leader Sinn Fein £2,900
DUP £2,900
Alliance £2,900
SDLP £2,900
Party secretary Sinn Fein £2,900
DUP £2,900

In circumstances where a councillor is wholly suspended from carrying out the duties of a councillor in accordance with section 59(5) of the Local Government Act (NI) 2014, the whole of any special responsibility allowance payable to the councillor in respect of the period for which the councillor is suspended shall be withheld.

In circumstances where a councillor is wholly suspended from carrying out the duties of a councillor in accordance with section 60(1) (Decisions on Interim Reports) of the Local Government Act (NI) 2014, the whole of any special responsibility allowance payable to the councillor in respect of the period for which the councillor is suspended shall be withheld, subject to the provision that the allowance withheld shall be payable to the councillor concerned should the final adjudication of the Commissioner for Standards exonerate the councillor concerned.

In circumstances where a councillor is partially suspended from carrying out the duties of a councillor in accordance with section 59(5) of the Local Government Act (NI) 2014, that part of any special responsibility allowance (to which the partial suspension relates) payable to the councillor in respect of the period for which the councillor is partially suspended shall be withheld. 

In circumstances where a councillor is partially suspended from carrying out the duties of a councillor in accordance with section 60(1) (Decisions on Interim Reports) of the Local Government Act (NI) 2014, that part of any special responsibility allowance (to which the partial suspension relates) payable to the councillor in respect of the period for which the councillor is partially suspended shall be withheld, subject to the provision that the allowance withheld shall be payable to the councillor concerned should the final adjudication of the Commissioner for Standards exonerate the councillor concerned.

(iii) Civic Dignitaries' Allowance

Section 32 of the Finance Act provides that a council may pay to the civic dignitaries 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 entitlements, per annum, are:

  • Lord Mayor £34,800
  • Deputy Lord Mayor £6,250
  • High Sheriff £6,250

Where a Lord Mayor or Deputy Lord Mayor is suspended from carrying out the duties of a councillor in accordance with section 59(5) of the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 2014, the part of Civic Allowance payable to the councillor in respect of the period for which the councillor is suspended will be withheld.

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(iv) Dependants' Carers' Allowance

Any member who is the main carer of a dependant, where care is required to enable that member to perform an Approved Duty (see page 9), 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 2020 are:

  • Standard Care - £8.72 per hour limited to £453.44 per month
  • Specialist Care - £17.44 per hour limited to £906.88 per month

A dependant is defined as:

  • a child under 16 years old
  • a child 16 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 or
  • 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 occurrence of an approved duty and only one Dependants' Carers' Allowance rate is payable, even if there are two or more dependants being cared for.

Councillors must disclose any financial support provided under this allowance when applying for other care services offered by another public body.

This allowance claim may also include the duration of essential travel time, up to a maximum of one hour before the approved duty starts and ending up to one hour after it finishes. 

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(v) District Policing and Community Safety Partnership Allowances (DPCSP)

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.

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(vi) Renunciations

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.

(vii)   Disqualification or suspension of a councillor

The Local Government Commissioner for Standards may impose sanctions on a councillor who is found to have breached the Northern Ireland Code of Conduct for Councillors. Such sanction may be imposed at the conclusion of the Commissioner’s adjudication process of the alleged breach or at the conclusion of an interim adjudication by the Commissioner.

For the purpose of this scheme of allowances, the following action will be taken upon receipt by the Chief Executive of a decision by the Commissioner which results in the disqualification or the suspension of a councillor:

Disqualification

If a councillor is disqualified, then the payment of all allowances and the provision of all support services outlined in this scheme will cease with immediate effect from the date of disqualification.

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Suspension

If a councillor is wholly suspended for a period, then the payment of all allowances and the provision of all support services outlined in this scheme will cease with immediate effect from the date of suspension.

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(b) Expenses

Travel and subsistence allowances

All claims for travel and subsistence should be submitted within three months. Any claims made outside of this time limit cannot be processed.

(i)   Travel

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 in relation to the 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. 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.

The following rates are currently in use, with most councillors getting the maximum amount of 65.0p per mile: 

Mileage Motor car Electric car Pedal cycle Motor cycle (all engine capacities)
0-8,500 miles 450-999cc    46.9p
1000-1199cc  52.2p
1199cc and over 65.0p
45.0p 20.0p 24.0p
After 8,500 miles 450-999cc     13.7p
1000-1199cc  14.4p
1199cc and over 16.4p
25.0p 20.0p 24.0p
Passenger rate 5.0p

Public transport

Expenditure on public transport in relation to attending approved duties can be claimed back only when accompanied by proof of purchase. Any journeys made using public transport should be noted on the monthly mileage claim form.

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Subsistence

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 accommodation or travel arrangements for conferences are made directly by the council.

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. Purchases of any alcoholic beverages may not be claimed for.

Within the UK

The rates for subsistence allowance are determined by the Department for Communities. The following table shows the current rates of subsistence which may be claimed for:

Maximum subsistence rates British Isles London
Accommodation allowance £100.70 £122.45
Meal allowance
Breakfast £11.50
Lunch £13.50
Tea £4.70
Dinner £20.95
Total meal allowance £50.65

Departments will assist councillors in the completion of claim forms. Councillors should contact an appropriate officer immediately upon returning from the conference to give details of additional expenses incurred and to sign the necessary claim forms.

Claims without receipts should rarely happen. 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 24-hour period.

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Approved duties

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. Members may only claim travelling allowance for attending committees to which they have been appointed. A member, however, may claim mileage allowance 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.

or

(b) attendance approved by the council for the purpose of, or in connection with, the discharge of the functions of the council:

  • 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 and
  • attendance by appointed councillors at meetings of outside bodies only if the functions of the outside body relates to the statutory functions of the council, and where remuneration is not made by the outside body to which the councillor has been appointed
  • attendance at training courses or briefing sessions provided by or through the council.

In addition, the council’s Chief Executive can authorise as approved duties certain miscellaneous functions.

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Tax

Useful information on treatment of tax for councillors could be found on HMRC's Employment income manual (link opens in a new window).

Councillors’ pension scheme

Councillors are automatically enrolled 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.

If a councillor no longer wishes to participate in the pension scheme, or has any queries regarding the scheme, NIGOSC should be contacted directly on 034 5319 7320.

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(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 the following:

  • tablet PC
  • all-in-one printer (printer, fax and scanner)
  • smartphone, which includes a call, text and data allowance

Tablet PC

Each councillor is entitled to receive a tablet PC 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 minutes system and to engage more effectively with constituents.

Where a councillor has been provided with a tablet PC, hard copies of council, committee and working group report packs will not be provided.

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 and
(c) 4GB of data usage per month.

All costs incurred by calls, texts or data usage outside of that detailed above, 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 the councillors’ cars on the following basis:

  • reimbursement will be made in respect of the costs of installation of the equipment in the councillor’s own private vehicle and shall be subject to the submission of appropriate receipts
  • the maximum amount of reimbursement on each occasion to be £250.00

Home telephone

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. 

Broadband internet access

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, subject to any tax deductions being applied through the council’s payroll.

Access to the council’s systems is provided by means of a virtual private network (VPN). Councillors should speak to officers in Democratic Services to arrange to have the VPN set up on their computer.

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Electronic minutes system

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 and
  • 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. 

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(ii) Councillors’ support 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. 

Members’ Common Room

The Members’ Common Room is located at the reception area of the City Hall, adjacent to the committee rooms. Individual mail boxes are located here and fruit, tea, coffee and daily papers are provided for councillors.

Party rooms

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, printer, scanner, television, tea and coffee machine and filing space, each party room has at least one PC and docking stations for use with the council-provided tablet PCs.  

Correspondence

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 either in the councillor’s mailbox or posted.

Post

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 officer to request an allocation of prepaid envelopes. 

Postal facilities are not available for party political issues.

Message and enquiry service

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. Urgent messages will be relayed immediately to councillors, if contact is possible, and other messages will be emailed or left in their mail boxes. 

Council stationery

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.

Civic gifts

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. 

Research and information

Democratic Services staff will be available to assist councillors in obtaining information and carrying out research on items related to council and constituency business.

Receiving constituents

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.

Car parking

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. If this is required, please contact Democratic Services staff. The visitor's name and the make, model and registration number of the vehicle will be required for admittance by security staff. 

Restaurant

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.

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