Councils to chase second home owners

LEVYING higher bills on second homeowners in Suffolk could generate more than £2million and act as a "buffer" to Council Tax rises, it has been revealed.

LEVYING higher bills on second homeowners in Suffolk could generate more than £2million and act as a "buffer" to Council Tax rises, it has been revealed.

Suffolk County Council is talking to district and borough councils about their plans to reduce the 50% Council Tax discount given to more than 5,000 holiday homeowners across the county.

New government legislation gives billing authorities the power to slash the concession to as low as 10% from April 2004, which could give the Suffolk councils a lifeline after the government cut their grant settlements.

The district and borough councils have yet to make formal decisions on the discount rate, but the county council estimates that if they cut it to 10% an extra £2.3million will be generated across Suffolk.

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Due to the way council tax is distributed, about £1.8million of this would go to the county council, which could be used to trim any Council Tax increase by just under 1%.

David Rowe, the county council's portfolio holder for strategic and financial planning, said: "We will use the money to keep down the county council's Council Tax increase. We are still in discussion with other councils about their plans for reducing the discount on second homes but we are keen to see the full reduction introduced.

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"This would mean we and other councils can keep any increase in council tax as low as possible as we are committed to doing everything we can to try and ensure any increase is reasonable for tax-payers whilst still delivering our services to a high standard."

Ray Herring, leader of Suffolk Coastal District Council, said it would "certainly" be cutting the discount to 10%.

"We have 2,200 second homes and this is more than any other district by quite a considerable margin.

"We would expect that to generate £90,000 and would reduce Suffolk Coastal District Council's Council Tax rise by 2%. The county would benefit to the extent of £1million."

Councillor Sue Carpendale, from Babergh District Council, said if it reduced the discount to 10% for the 500 holiday homeowners in the district it would generate about £300,000. However the district council would only receive £29,000.

She said: "In our deliberations we will look at that to buffer the Council Tax rise but it would be a drop in the ocean. The impact is not going to be that huge but we are desperately keen to keep Council Tax rises down."

There are about 1,300 second homes in Waveney and Peter Austin, district council leader, said it would collect about £600,000 if the discount was slashed but because of the proportion given to the police authority and county council it would only be left with £60,000.

He added: "We feel that is a bit unfair but we would like to negotiate with the council to get a bigger proportion of the money."

Reg Hartles, the chairman of Protest Against the Council Tax Suffolk (PACTS) said: "I am all for this and it is good news. Second homeowners should pay for the services they use. They can't be hard up as they can afford a holiday home.

"Times are very difficult and people with one home can't afford their council tax. They should have done this long ago."

Richard Spring, MP for West Suffolk, said: "The district and borough councils shouldn't be in a position where they have to do this. They shouldn't be forced into a decision because of the lousy settlement from central government."

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