Homes left empty by buy-to-let investors could be bought back into use if the empty homes premium was extended to second homes and increased to 100%, the government has been told.
Empty homes experts and one London borough have suggested a solution to the housing crisis amid concerns that overseas investors are leaving new properties vacant as they wait for property values to increase.
Camden LBC cabinet member for finance Theo Blackwell (Lab) said international investors were buying properties in his borough and “storing a few sticks of furniture in a property in order to claim it is a ‘second home’ and thus avoid the [empty homes] premium”.
Homes left empty for more than two years are currently subject to a 50% council tax premium while second homes are subject to the same rates as a primary residence allowing owners to “game the system” by pretending empty homes were second homes, Cllr Blackwell said.
“There are lots of people investing a lot of money in private flats and seeing them go up by 8% a year and leaving them empty,” he said. “I suspect there are people trying to game the system and we want a simple way to sort that out.”
Cllr Blackwell has written to communities secretary Eric Pickles requesting a law change and highlighting the case of one recently completed luxury development in Islington where only 32% of the flats had occupants registered on the electoral roll compared to 93% in a nearby council block.
The council has also asked the government to increase the empty homes premium from 50% of council tax to 100% and for the premium to be applied to homes empty for just one year, rather than the current two years.
David Gibbens, secretary of the Empty Homes Network, said treating second homes the same as empty homes was a “simplifying proposal and a fair proposal and prevents tax avoidance”.
Mr Gibbens also backed the call for a 100% premium, pointing out that this level was used in Scotland and described the 50% premium in England as “a little bit feeble”.
However, he questioned whether DCLG would heed the calls for further legislative change on empty homes because the 50% premium had only been introduced last year in the Local Government Finance Act.