LABOUR has been accused of planning a “tax on misery” after saying it would consider introducing a 200 per cent council tax levy on empty homes.
The group said it would consider raising rates on unused privately owned homes to help free up housing for 4500 Edinburgh families listed as homeless and backed a recent council motion by the Green Party.
The move would mark a radical departure from the current system – in which owners pay a knock-down rate of 90 per cent – and provide an incentive to rent out properties.
However, critics insist the move would hit those in the most difficult of circumstances.
As the Evening News revealed earlier this month, there were nearly 1500 empty private homes by December 2011, up 64 per cent on the 900 disused properties in 2007.
Conservative councillor Gordon Buchan, who sits on the housing committee, said there were many reasons why a property might be empty for more than six months.
He said: “This is nothing more than a tax on misery. It might well be that a member of family has passed away and the hope is to either move into that property or sell it, which is taking a while to do. That’s a distressing time for people and they don’t need to be hit with a bill for thousands of pounds.”
Green councillor Maggie Chapman first raised the proposals in a failed motion to the last housing committee.
Backed by Labour, it would have included a database mapping all empty homes.
Maureen Child, Labour’s health and social care spokeswoman, insisted that the Liberal Democrat/SNP coalition had failed to take housing shortages seriously enough.
She said: “We should look at any prospect there is to encourage people to bring their property back to the market.
“This suggestion is a signal we’re taking this seriously. The view of the administration that this is a small problem is not realistic.”
The homeless charity Shelter Scotland is supportive of the proposals. Director Graeme Brown said a “package of carrots and sticks” was needed.
Lib Dem Paul Edie, the city’s housing convener, added that there were “many reasons why homes stay empty, difficulty selling among them”.
He added: “We’ve probably got the strongest performance on empty homes in Scotland.”