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Council tax savings to be funded by owners of long-term empty homes

Paloma Kubiak
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Paloma Kubiak

Local authorities are to be given extra powers to triple or even quadruple council tax for owners of long-term empty homes with the funds used to offset bills for other residents.

Originally, the government sought to allow local authorities to charge double the rate of council tax on properties which had been left empty for two or more years.

But it’s now going a step further by proposing to give authorities the power to triple council tax on homes left empty for five to 10 years, and quadruple it on those left vacant for more than a decade.

Councils will be able to use funds from the premium to keep council tax levels down for other residents.

Currently, there are just over 200,000 homes empty for six months or more in England, compared to 300,000 in 2010. Since 2013, councils have the power to charge an up to 50% premium on council tax bills.

The Rating (Property in Common Occupation) and Council Tax (Empty Dwellings) Bill received its third reading in the House of Lords yesterday afternoon. There’s one more stage for the Bill to go through before it comes into force.

But it’s anticipated that councils will be able to charge 100% premiums from April 2019, 200% premiums from April 2020 and 300% premiums from 2021.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government said decisions on whether to charge a premium, and the exact rates to be charged will remain a matter for councils, taking local circumstances into account.

Secretary of State for Communities, the Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP, said: “We’re determined to do everything we can to ensure our communities have the housing they need.

“That’s why we’re giving councils extra flexibility to increase bills and incentivise owners to bring long-standing empty homes back into use.

“By equipping councils with the right tools to get on with the job, we could potentially provide thousands more families with a place to call home.”

Council tax exemptions

The government said premiums must not be applied where homeowners can demonstrate that their properties are “genuinely” on the market for sale or rent, or in cases of hardship. Councils will also need to take into account the issues of low-demand areas.

Councils have the powers to refrain from charging the empty homes premium in individual cases, and in the following cases where the liable council taxpayer:

  • has gone into care or hospital, is severely mentally impaired or has gone elsewhere to provide care
  • is living elsewhere in armed forces accommodation for job-related purposes
  • has died and probate has yet to be granted

No council tax premium can be charged on annexes being used as part of a main property.