Federated Farmers has been gathering information about local authority rates on farms around the country. This will be part of our contribution to the current Productivity Commission review of local government financing and cost pressures.

Besides the horrendous rates many farmers pay, a theme in the feedback has been concern that in many districts farming operations are paying numerous uniform annual charges, because the farm is in more than one title.

"A uniform general charge can be hundreds of dollars. It is a good idea to check your rate demands to see what charges are applied ..."

Multiple titles are common in farming. This can be part of a farm succession plan, the use of leased blocks, and run-offs.

A letter we received from a Far North farmer expressed dismay at multiple annual charges, and we thought it worth looking at how the Northland councils handle this issue.

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The basic rule is that rates apply to each land title, and the value thereof. Uniform annual charges, as a per property amount, are intended to reflect a contribution all ratepayers should make regardless of property value.

To avoid one land owner paying multiple times, the law allows for charges on additional titles to be remitted, but the rules are strict. The titles must be contiguous, used for the same purpose (ie. farming), and owned by the same person.

Individual councils can extend this using a remission policy, so that, for example, land titles making up a farm don't need to be in the same ownership to qualify for remission.

Around New Zealand the impact of these rules varies. Some councils hold tight to the legal minimum, getting maximum uniform charges from farm land, others are more relaxed.

In Northland council policies also vary.

The Far North District Council has quite an extensive 'common use' policy, so titles that are physically separated but part of a farm, such as a run-off, can get the extra uniform charges taken off their rates.

The catch is that the titles still must be owned or leased by the same entity, but on application to the council, separate owners can confirm their titles are part of the same farm.

Whang─ürei's rules are a little different, with a charging policy refined to the separately used or inhabited part of a rating unit, presumably to capture multiple residences on the one title. For farms it seems a bare land title ends up with uniform charges anyway.

The Kaipara council's policy is perhaps best for the farming community. They allow remission of uniform charges where titles are part of the same farm, regardless of ownership.

A uniform general charge can be hundreds of dollars. It is a good idea to check your rate demands to see what charges are applied; if you have more than one title, money might be saved by checking with your council.