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Tough new powers could help bring thousands of empty homes back to use

PUBLISHED: 11:51 30 March 2018

Councils will be handed powers to levy additional charges on homes standing empty for two years or more. Picture: TONYBAGGETT/GETTYIMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

Councils will be handed powers to levy additional charges on homes standing empty for two years or more. Picture: TONYBAGGETT/GETTYIMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

TonyBaggett

Councils will be handed powers to levy additional charges on homes standing empty for two years or more.

Thousands of empty properties across England could be brought back into use under new legislation allowing council tax to be doubled on homes left unoccupied for years.

The move is part of a range of Government measures aimed at increasing the number of available homes and comes alongside efforts to boost housebuilding.

Local government minister, Rishi Sunak, said: “It is simply wrong that, while there are 200,000 long-term empty properties across the country, thousands of families are desperate for a secure place to call home.

“This new power will equip councils with the tools they need to encourage owners of long-term empty properties to bring them back into use - and at the same time tackle the harmful effect they have on communities through squatting, vandalism and anti-social behaviour.”

The move was announced in the November 2017 Budget.

Chancellor Philip Hammond said previously: “It can’t be right to leave property empty when so many are desperate for a place to live.

“So we will give local authorities the power to charge a 100% council tax premium on empty properties.”

According to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the number of homes empty for six months or longer is substantially lower than when records began in 2004, when the figure was 318,642.

It said as of October 2017, the number had fallen to 205,293.

And it said the number of empty homes has reduced dramatically since 2013, when councils were given powers to charge a 50% premium on council tax bills empty for two years or more.

The Government said guidance makes clear the premium should not be used to penalise owners of homes that are genuinely on the market for rent or sale.

There are exemptions in place for homes are empty due to the occupant living in armed forces accommodation for job-related purposes, or to annexes being used as part of a main property.

Also, the council tax system provides statutory exemptions for properties left empty for a specific purpose, for example, when someone goes into care.

Councils also have powers to apply discounts in cases where homes are empty due to special circumstances such as hardship, fire or flooding.

There is a council tax exemption for homes which are empty due to probate.

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EADT writer David Vincent has more than 40 years experience in Suffolk. He has explored the highways and byeways of East Anglia, meeting homeowners, developers and estate agents from Bury St Edmunds to Aldeburgh and Colchester to Diss.

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