Major change to rating Māori land

Published on 22 April 2021

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Last week, new legislation that supports the development of Māori land came into force. We supported the objectives of the Local Government (Rating of Whenua Māori) Amendment Bill and welcome Parliament’s move to modernise laws that have remained largely unchanged since 1924.

The Far North contains large tracts of Māori freehold land, much of which is unoccupied or unimproved and since becoming Mayor in 2013, I have worked to change the way our Council views this land, particularly multiply-owned Māori land.

The need for change was very clear to me. I found that a block of multiply-owned Māori land, when compared to a similar block under general title, was charged at least double if not more than the rates levied against general title land. I found that the valuation, because of the way in which the law is stated, meant that multiply-owned Māori land was often given a far greater value than its general title counterpart. I found that, because of issues around records, we often had incorrect owner names and addresses meaning the Council was not communicating with landowners.

I worked with staff to change the way Council viewed this land. Instead of seeing it purely as a source of rating revenue, we asked how we could help make the land productive from the owners’ point of view, both financially and emotionally. We looked at how we could help turn these blocks into productive units that will benefit owners, the district and the region. We have worked to correct our land records and brought rates into line with those levied against general title land. Most significantly, we have worked with landowners to write-off the burden of outstanding rates – something that so often prevents them using their land.

That is why I am so pleased the Government has reviewed rating legislation for Māori land. The key implication of the Bill is to make ‘unused’ or ‘unoccupied’ land non-rateable from 1 July 2021. We estimate we will need to write off about $20 million of $21.6 million owed on Māori freehold land. Where appropriate, the Bill allows the Council to apply rates to those “using” the land instead of the owners. We are reviewing our rating accounts for land identified as unused or unoccupied. In addition, we are reviewing accounts that have carried big arrears for a significant time. Some of these arrears will be written off and where this occurs, landowners will be encouraged to explore ways to begin making regular rate payments. These write-offs may not be for the full amount owing, as the Local Government Act requires us to make every attempt to collect money owed. However, I anticipate that if arrears are significantly reduced, landowners will be in a position to begin making regular rate payments.

Te Puni Kōkiri has published a booklet aimed at Māori landowners explaining the new legislation. If you or your whānau want to find out more, go to the Te Puni Kōkiri website.