Fiona Duff: Time to revamp property policies

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There is a huge housing problem in this country. In central London there are swathes of prime (ie eye wateringly expensive) houses and flats that lie empty for most part of the year. Foreigners see the UK capital as a safe place to invest money, especially if their native country is in a state of flux. Meanwhile for people who try to work in the Big Smoke it is nigh on impossible to find anything to buy or rent if you are on a regular income. Of course, if you have a regular banker’s bonus this isn’t a problem.

Elsewhere in the country there are thousands of people who live in houses that are too big for their needs. Their children have fled the nest, the bedrooms lie empty and the impetus to move is fairly low.

There have been suggestions that people over the age of 60 who are downsizing should be exempt of Land and Buildings Transaction Tax. This would encourage them to free up larger properties as well as have a bit of cash for that South American cruise that they have always fancied. It would appear to be a good idea so obviously that won’t 
happen.

In Edinburgh the property market remains fairly buoyant, but as ever the council really isn’t helping matters. A couple I know recently bought a flat which had lain empty for several months. During this time it was exempt from council tax, and indeed having had a look around just before their successful bid, it was totally uninhabitable. It didn’t even have a kitchen and we didn’t dare enter the bathroom for fear of what might lurk inside.

They had great plans to restore this place to its former glory; it wasn’t going to be cheap but they had their hearts set. Of course there are problems with planners. That goes without saying. However, just after they had those keys in the grasp of their hands the council was in touch. That council tax exemption on empty properties lasts only for one year. After that if your gaff has no-one living there they charge DOUBLE the council tax.

Now this is a good idea in that it stop people just leaving houses and flats to rot and disintegrate, and I can totally see why it is in place. However it seems completely unreasonable when a new owner is spending every penny in the piggy bank to try and make it a nice place to live. As ever the clipboard army is incapable of looking at anything on an individual basis; if there is a rule or regulation their blinkered little eyes cannot look beyond this. It is as though they would rather deal with robots rather than humans. They should just remember that their salaries are paid by those with flesh and blood.

One day, when I can be bothered, I really will get around to try to arrange a protest in the way of non-payment of council tax. Would you like to join me?