Government introduces bill to double council tax on empty homes

But campaigners question whether the proposed legislation can rein in wealthy owners to Fill ‘Em Up

Empty homes could face a double council tax hike in a bid to bring them back into use, courtesy of new government legislation announced yesterday.

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

The Big Issue has been calling for empty homes to be filled to dismantle poverty since 2015 when we launched our Fill ‘Em Up campaign.

Whilst allowing councils to charge double council tax on some empty homes is a welcome recognition of a problem that needs tackling, it is unlikely to be enough to deter some wealthy buy-to-leave buyers who could simply shrug off the sum

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.

“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,” said Richmond MP and housing minister Rishi Sunak.

“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.”

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But campaigners have cast doubt on whether the proposed legislation can bite back against wealthy owners who can afford to stump up the cash to cover the premium rise.

Helen Williams, director of campaigning charity Empty Homes, is instead proposing that the government conducts a review to ensure that dwelling owners are unable to slip through the net.

“Whilst allowing councils to charge double council tax on some empty homes is a welcome recognition of a problem that needs tackling, it is unlikely to be enough to deter some wealthy buy-to-leave buyers who could simply shrug off the sum,” she said. “Moreover, some of the properties that people think of as being empty do not count as empty for council tax purposes, as they are used occasionally.

“We’d like the government to do a more thorough review of the measures that could deter people holding homes empty or hardly ever used. At the same time, the government needs to target funding at areas with poor quality housing and high levels of empty homes, to support community-based organisations and local authorities to buy and do-up empty properties to create decent housing that’s affordable for people priced out of good options on the housing market”.