A bill to bring empty homes back into use is progressing through parliament

The Empty Dwellings Bill could see landlords pay double council tax if they leave homes unoccupied for two years

New proposed legislation that could double council tax for homes left empty is progressing through parliament following a committee stage hearing yesterday.

The Rating (Property in Common Occupation) and Council Tax (Empty Dwellings) Bill aims to bolster existing powers to reduce the number of homes left without an occupier for two years or longer. The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government move aims to increase the premium charge of 50 per cent that was introduced in 2013.

Proposed amendments to the bill at the hearing suggested making council tax hikes even higher, with an escalating scale going on to charge 200 per cent rises for homes empty for five-to-ten years and 300 per cent for 10 years plus. There were also suggestions to reduce the threshold for classing a home as empty to one year, rather than two, while Lord Stunell proposed slashing the 100 per cent hike by a quarter for landlords who have improved the energy performance of homes.

None of the amendments were carried through, however, with Communities Minister Lord Bourne warning of the dangers of turning council tax away from a “source of funding to a more punitive type of measure”.

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Big Issue founder Lord Bird also had an amendment mentioned in his absence, aiming to allow councils the freedom to tailor the duration that a home can be empty for to fit their area.

Responding to the suggestion, Lord Bourne said: “The risk of the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Bird, is that it would give local authorities an open door to extend that definition to types of properties that are not genuinely empty.

“Premiums could be applied to furnished properties that are periodically occupied either because they are someone’s second home or a job-related home or simply because the owner is away on holiday.

“I know there are views about second homes and properties that might be considered to be underoccupied, but this legislation is about long-term empty properties, which is a different matter. The design of the system already provides the right balance of flexibility for local authorities.”

The bill will now move on to the report stage in the House of Lords.

This is not the first time that The Big Issue has spoken out against the issue – in fact we launched our Fill ‘Em Up campaign in 2015 to bring empty homes back into use.

The number of dwellings left empty for six months dropped from just over 300,000 in 2010 to 205,293 by 2017, albeit a small rise from the 200,145 recorded a year previously. The current level sits well below the 318,642 unoccupied homes when records began in 2004.

Image: Flickr/Mikey