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Stronger powers granted to councils to tackle empty homes

Communities secretary James Brokenshire has officially granted councils across England with enhanced powers to charge greater tax premiums on empty homes following an amendment to a government bill.

Councils will be allowed to triple the council tax on homes left empty for five to 10 years and quadruple it on those empty for more than a decade.

When first introducing the plans in March, Brokenshire said the changes can ensure that communities have the housing they need.

“That’s why we’re giving councils extra flexibility to increase bills and incentivise owners to bring long-standing empty homes back into use,” he added. “By equipping councils with the right tools to get on with the job, we could potentially provide thousands more families with a place to call home.”

Homes which have been empty for between two and five years would still be subject to the council tax bill being doubled under the proposal.

Decisions on whether to charge a premium— and the exact rates to be charged— will remain a matter for councils, taking local circumstances into account. It is expected that they will be able to charge 100% premiums from April 2019, 200% premiums from April 2020, and 300% premiums from 2021.

Since 2013, local authorities have been able to charge a 50% premium on the tax bills of owners of homes empty for two years or more. A total of 291 out of 326 councils applied an empty homes premium in 2017 to 2018.

Today, there are over 200,000 homes empty for six months or more in England, compared to 300,000 in 2010. The number has plummeted since 2013 after council were given powers to charge a 50% premium on council tax bills.

No council tax at all can be charged on empty properties where the liable taxpayer has gone into care or hospital, is severely mentally impaired or has gone elsewhere to provide care, is living elsewhere in armed forces accommodation for job-related purposes, or has died and probate has yet to be granted.

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