Suffolk holiday homes cash bonanza

PROTESTERS angry at steep rises in council tax in Suffolk last night urged local authorities to start levying higher bills on second homeowners.New laws allowing authorities to reduce the council tax discount on second homes from the current statutory 50% to as little as 10% comes into force in April after being proposed nearly a year ago.

PROTESTERS angry at steep rises in council tax in Suffolk last night urged local authorities to start levying higher bills on second homeowners.

New laws allowing authorities to reduce the council tax discount on second homes from the current statutory 50% to as little as 10% comes into force in April after being proposed nearly a year ago.

Councils in Suffolk stand to reap a £2million windfall if they were to charge second home owners as much as they can - but it has emerged many had still not formally considered the issue.

Campaigners against the 18.5% council tax rises in Suffolk angrily reacted to the news saying it was "not fair" that permanent residents were subsidising people with holiday homes and called on the councils to act.

In the Waveney district there are 1,349 second homes, which could generate up to £500,000 in extra revenue.

Cllr Simon Jones, portfolio holder for finance at Waveney District Council, said: "The plans are still sketchy and we have not worked through the level of detail as yet.

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"However I think second homes are an enormous burden on society. People do use them quite frequently and they do use the services.

"Pensioners are finding it difficult to pay their local council tax and are really suffering under the rises so we need to explore this option in great depth.

Cllr Chris Lawrence, portfolio holder for finance at Mid Suffolk District Council, said the proposed legislation was discussed a year ago by councillors but a decision would probably not be taken until after the budget is set early next year.

In the district there are 330 second homes, which could produce an extra £139,000.

The only council that has begun to consider plans for a reduction in the concession for second homes is Suffolk Coastal District Council.

A spokesman said: "Because we have not got the formal legislation through from the government no plans have so far been made by the council. We are hoping a decision will be reached in December.

"The policy is that we would be minded to go for the maximum of 90%, which for this authority would raise £80,000 worth of additional spending for us.

"The total we would collect would be £850,000 but the vast majority goes to the county council and the other precepting authorities.

"We have about 2,200 second homes in the county, which is about 4% of the total number of homes in the district."

He added: "One of the issues the councillors will look into is whether the council should pour money into the district generally or whether to target those areas where there is a preponderance of second homes, for example in Aldeburgh where 25% of the homes are holiday homes."

In the Babergh district there are about 500 second homes that could generate an extra £235,000 in council tax.

Bob Southgate, head of revenues at the council, said it was too soon to say how the money would be spent.

"We are still reviewing our position on this at the moment. The only issue that comes up with this is what is a second homeowner? It does not mean the same to everyone. It could be a homeowner who has a high powered job in London who comes home at the weekend or it could also be the person who had to go away to get a job.

A spokeswoman for St Edmundsbury Borough Council said the county council was guiding the borough on what action it should take from next April.

She said: "There are 245 properties, which are classified as second homes at the moment. If we make a reduction, £120,000 would be raised.

"However the majority would go to the county council and the precepting authorities so we would only be left with £13,500, which is about 12%."

Julie White, communications officer for Forest Heath District Council, where there are 203 second homes that could generate an estimated £75,000, also said negotiations would be made with Suffolk County Council before a decision is made.

In Ipswich there are 160 second homes, which could produce £68,000 for the borough.

Simon Attwood, local tax manager, said the borough councillors had not "formally considered what they are going to do about the discounts". Reports are now being prepared for them ahead of an executive meeting, which should take place before the end of the year.

He added: "The changes in the law affects the definition of second and empty homes. Long term empty homes, of which there are about 700 in Ipswich, could have their 50% discount removed completely.

"The second homes discount can be reduced to 10%. A second home is a home that is furnished which is not being used as a main residence."

Reg Hartles, a member of Protest Against the Council Tax Suffolk,(PACTS)

said that if people could afford a second home they should be able to afford the whole rate of the council tax without a discount.

"Local people should not be subsidising other people that can well afford to pay their fair share," he added.

Betty Bone, who led the Petition for Pensioners campaign against council tax rises in the county, added: "If they are allowed to reduce it to a 10% discount then that is one way of saving us poor taxpayers.

"It is up to them how much they use the facilities. It is not fair that they do not pay the same amount of council tax as the rest of us."

Chris Mole, Labour MP for Ipswich, said he was "surprised" district and borough councils had not been more enthusiastic to take up the powers the government had given them and they had wanted.

He added: "I think people recognise that when people buy a second home in a village it can displace local families and stop them from having the opportunity to live in their hometown.

"I don't see any reason why people who live most of the year in London should get a discount."

Richard Spring, Conservative MP for West Suffolk, said second homes were a "fact of life" and it was "up to the councils what they want to do" about the discount.

Bill Banks, assistant director of finance at Suffolk County Council, said: "Suffolk County Council is currently in discussions with the district and borough councils about the possibility of reducing the council tax discount for people with second homes.

"We are working to co-ordinate a mutually agreed approach with the other councils and are looking at how the extra income could be spent in areas in which it is raised.

"However a decision to reduce the discount would have to be taken by the individual district and borough councils."

A spokeswoman for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister confirmed that the bill would come into effect in April 2004 and council's could reduce the discount in March. She added that district councils should be thinking about their plans in "tandem with the county councils."

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