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James Brokenshire provides stronger powers for councils to tackle empty homes

Thursday 19 July 2018

Councils across England will have powers to charge even greater Council Tax premiums on homes left empty for many years following an amendment to a Government bill.

Introduced in March 2018, the Rating (Property in Common Occupation) and Council Tax (Empty Dwellings) Bill 2017-19 originally contained provision for councils to double the rate of tax on properties that had been empty for two years or more.

The Government is now going further and introducing an amendment that would allow councils to triple the council tax on homes left empty for five to 10 years, and quadruple it on those empty for more than a decade.

Councils already have powers and incentives to tackle empty homes and have been able to charge a 50 per cent premium on the council tax bills of owners of homes empty for two years or more since 2013, but the amendment will allow councils to charge 100 per cent premiums from April 2019, 200 per cent premiums from April 2020 and 300 per cent premiums from 2021. Under the proposal, homes which have been empty for between two and five years would still be subject to a doubling Council Tax bill.

Secretary of State for Communities, 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.”

Official figures show that there are currently just over 200,000 long-term empty properties in England that have been left empty for six months or more - this is compared to 300,000 back in in 2010. However this number has reduced dramatically since 2013 after councils were given powers to charge a 50 per cent premium on council tax bills.

Decisions on whether to charge a premium, and the exact rates to be charged will remain a matter for councils, although figures show that where councils have applied the premium consistently every year, there has been a nine per cent fall in the number of homes being charged the premium.

However the Government has been clear that the premium must not be applied where homeowners can demonstrate that their properties are genuinely on the market for sale or rent. Councils will also have powers to refrain from charging the empty homes premium in individual cases, including instances 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; or
  • has died and probate has yet to be granted.

Annexes being used as part of a main property are not subject to a Council Tax premium.

To ensure the proposed new powers are not used to unfairly punish those facing difficult circumstances, the Government has also announced that it will publish revised guidance for councils on the use of premiums. This will also take into account issues relating to low-demand areas and ensure it does not hinder complex regeneration schemes.

The move is just one part of an ambitious package of targeted measures and long-term reform introduced by the Government to try and fix the country’s broken housing market, to ensure communities have the homes they need.