Empty homes to face doubling of council tax fees

Green housing spokesman Steve Burgess has pushed for action on empty homes. Picture: PHIL WILKINSON
Green housing spokesman Steve Burgess has pushed for action on empty homes. Picture: PHIL WILKINSON
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HOMEOWNERS with properties lying empty within the city would face paying double the council tax under plans to be considered by finance chiefs.

The council tax discount rate for empty and unfurnished homes will fall from 50 per cent to ten per cent after six months, under plans before next week’s finance and budget committee,

Another key part of the proposal is that after 12 months the council tax charge is increased by 100 per cent for empty homes. This would replace the current arrangement whereby a 50 per cent discount applies after six months and ten per cent discount applies after 12 months.

The council’s robust approach is being driven by the Scottish Government’s commitment to return long-term empty properties to the market and increase the supply of affordable housing.

Last year, the government announced new regulations to extend councils’ powers to tackle the problem by allowing them to vary their discount.

If passed the new policy will come into effect in the second half of 2013/14 but will not affect second homes and holiday homes within the city.

A full council tax exemption for empty and unfurnished homes will still apply for the first six months that properties are empty. Council records indicate that there are more than 1700 properties classed as long-term empty in the city and approximately 5800 properties attracting second home discounts – a full review is set to take place to ensure the classifications are accurate.

If no properties are brought back into use, the application of an additional 100 per cent charge could generate extra revenue of up to £2 million a year – with that cash ring-fenced for affordable housing.The Green Party has long campaigned for more council tax on empty homes and is one of their manifesto pledges.

Green housing spokesperson Councillor Steve Burgess said: “We have been pushing for years for the council to up its game on flats and houses lying empty in the Capital that could be homes for people. These empty homes are literally a waste of space and can also be a focus for anti-social behaviour and vandalism.

“At a time of increasing pressure to build on our precious pockets of green space, the city needs to be sure every single existing potential home is used.

“This new proposal should be one part of a range of carrots and sticks to bring empty homes into use. We need to work actively with owners to help them make use of long-term empty homes, by offering advice or financial help if necessary. And we can use the extra income from additional council tax to fund that help.”

Councillor Alasdair Rankin, the city’s finance and budget convener, said: “Even though Edinburgh has a relatively low level of empty homes in both the social and private sectors, the council has a duty to look at all the options open to us to deliver more homes.”

Plans will have a limited effect

Edinburgh Solicitors Property Centre (ESPC) head of marketing Neil Harrison said of the proposals: “The important element is the relief given during the first six months that the home is empty. As these changes do not impact on that time period, there will be limited impact on the market.

“There is potential that as homeowners approach the end of the initial six-month period that they elect to review their asking price and attempt to increase the appeal of their property to buyers rather than face the additional monthly council tax.

“While it may help the market a little, the vast majority of those selling their home are not really in a position where they can leave a home empty for an extended time period. Anyone with a mortgage over a property is going to want to sell the property or look to generate rental income to cover their expenditure. So for a small proportion of the market these changes will encourage them to set a lower asking price or offer the property to the rental market.”