Council's new homelessness strategy

By Richard SmithHOMELESSNESS problems could be eased if a council decides to eliminate the Council Tax discount on empty homes.Suffolk Coastal District Council is being advised to abandon its policy of giving a 50% discount to the owners of long-term empty homes, with officers saying that could encourage owners to bring their homes back into use.

By Richard Smith

HOMELESSNESS problems could be eased if a council decides to eliminate the Council Tax discount on empty homes.

Suffolk Coastal District Council is being advised to abandon its policy of giving a 50% discount to the owners of long-term empty homes, with officers saying that could encourage owners to bring their homes back into use.

Under previous legislation, homes empty for long periods were entitled to a statutory 50% discount on the Council Tax bill.


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But the Local Government Act 2003 has brought in significant changes relating to Council Tax discounts.

Billing authorities, such as district councils, now have the power to reduce or remove the discount on empty homes and they can reduce the discount on second homes.

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Peter Collicott, the council's finance director, said: “A key issue for the council is the need to find additional homes to tackle the homelessness problem within the district.

“Bringing long-term empty homes back into use would be of significant help. There are over 800 long-term empty properties in the district.

“The council holds no information about the personal circumstances of owners whose homes are empty. It is possible that some homes may be empty because, for example, owners are living elsewhere temporarily to care for other family members or receiving care themselves.

“However, the Council Tax legislation already provides exemptions for these and certain other reasons.”

The council has greatly increased spending on putting homeless families into bed and breakfast accommodation.

Six years ago it was only £2,322, but this rose to more than £300,000 in the last financial year, partly because rocketing house prices could not be afforded by many people.

The council's cabinet will also be advised at its meeting on January 6 to reduce the current discount of 50% on Council Tax payments for second homes to the minimum possible of 10%.

The district has about 2,500 homes used as second homes - 4.6% of the total housing stock in the area - and cutting the discount would bring in extra income for the district and county councils and Suffolk police.

If this lower discount had been in place in this financial year, there would have been an extra £1.2million available and that could have led to lower Council Tax bills.

The changes to the legislation on second homes were brought in by the Government because of pressure on property prices and increasing difficulties for residents to buy property close to their work or families.

A reduced usage of shops, pubs and post offices in villages led to a further reduction in the essential services for residents.

richard.smith@eadt.co.uk

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