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New legislation aims to double empty home tax premiums

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Legislation which will allow local authorities to double council tax premiums on empty homes is to be introduced in Parliament today.

The new legislation, introduced by the Ministry for Housing, Communities & Local Government, was first announced by the chancellor in the autumn Budget and aims to reduce the total number of empty homes across the country.

Yet experts claim the Rating (Property in Common Occupation) and Council Tax (Empty Dwellings) Bill will not achieve the government’s desired effect, as rich landowners are already easily able to afford the existing council tax premiums.

Helen Williams, director of campaigning charity Empty Homes, said: “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 shrug off the sum.

“With government data showing the number of long-term (more than six months) empty homes having increased in the year to October 2017, government needs to target funding at areas with high levels of empty homes to support community-based organisations and local authorities to buy and refurbish empty properties to create much needed new affordable housing”.

Local government Minister Rishi Sunak said it was simply “simply wrong” that 205,000 properties in England and Wales were currently lying long-term empty, as research from Empty Homes found. LGC reported earlier this month that the number of long-term empty homes reported by English local authorities rose in 2017 for the first time since 2008, according to Empty Homes. Long-term empty homes rose by 2.6% year-on-year to 205,000 nationally, with the highest proportion in the north of England.

LGC also reported that research published by the Liberal Democrats in January showed the areas with the largest number of homes empty for six months or more were Durham (6,502), Leeds (5,724), Bradford (4,144), Cornwall (3,273) and Liverpool (3,093).

Mr Sunak said: “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.”

Chancellor Philip Hammond said at the autumn Budget that new legislation would give local authorities the “power to charge a 100% council tax premium on empty properties”.

Mr Hammond said: “I want to address the issue of empty properties. It can’t be right to leave property empty when so many are desperate for a place to live.”

Sir Steve Bullock (Lab), London Councils’ housing spokesman, told LGC after the Budget announcement in November that council tax changes would not make much difference to the overall situation in the capital.

“Council tax is a minor issue because if you are sitting on a property in London you are sitting on a valuable asset. If we could charge 10 times the normal amount that might start to shift some of these people,” he said at the time.

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