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Government boost to tackle empty homes

Wednesday 04 April 2018

Newly announced legislation will allow councils to charge double the rate of Council Tax on homes left empty for years.

Thousands of long-term empty properties across England could be brought back into use as the government introduces new legislation to allow councils across England to charge double the rate of Council Tax on homes that are left empty for years.

The Rating (Property in Common Occupation) and Council Tax (Empty Dwellings) Bill 2017-19 is just one of a range of measures being introduced by the government to fix the country’s broken housing market, and will expand on council's existing powers and incentives to tackle the issue of empty homes.

Since 2013, when councils were given powers to charge a 50 per cent premium on Council Tax bills, the number of empty dwellings fell dramatically. There are currently just over 200,000 long-term empty dwellings in England, compared to 300,000 in 2010. And whilst the number of homes empty for six months or longer remains substantially lower than when records began back in 2004 when the figure was 318,642, councils will be handed powers to levy additional charges on homes standing empty for two years or more.

However there are exemptions in place for homes that are empty due to the occupant living in armed forces accommodation for job-related purposes, or to annexes being used as part of a main property. Also, the Council Tax system provides statutory exemptions for properties left empty for a specific purpose – for example, when a person goes into care. Councils also have powers to apply discounts in cases where homes are empty due to special circumstances – for example, hardship, fire or flooding.

Local Government Minister, Rishi Sunak, said: “It is simply wrong that, while there are 200,000 long-term empty properties across the country, thousands of families are desperate for a secure place to call home.

“This new power will equip councils with the tools they need to encourage owners of long-term empty properties to bring them back into use – and at the same time tackle the harmful effect they have on communities through squatting, vandalism and anti-social behaviour.”

The second reading of the Bill is due to take place in the House of Commons on 23 April 2018.