Triple Council Tax whammy for Plymouth to raise millions
LANDLORDS, empty home owners and the unemployed face a council tax bombshell in the new year.
The city is cracking down on empty homes by slashing their council tax rebates.
In a move designed to raise £1million and bring hundreds of homes back into use, any property that has been empty for more than two years will have to pay a whopping 150 per cent council tax from April 1.
Jobless people will have to contribute towards their council tax for the first time.
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And the whole city is likely to see a two per cent increase in council tax next year, Cllr Mark Lowry, the city's finance chief, said yesterday.
The biggest shock is reserved for second home owners and landlords.
The 2,483 second homes in Plymouth will no longer be eligible for a council tax discount, and about 5,600 empty, unfurnished homes will see their six-month council tax exemption cut to one month.
Properties undergoing major repairs will have to pay half their council tax instead of being exempt for up to a year.
The council will charge a 50 per cent premium on the 708 homes empty for more than two years, taking their total council tax due to 150 per cent.
All the changes will apply from April 1 next year.
Sera Wicks, lettings manager at Lang and Co, said: "We like to hope that properties don't stay empty for long but it does happen, especially at this time of year." She said the change was likely to have a big impact.
Meanwhile, as reported in The Herald, the Government is abolishing council tax benefit and handing over the budget to local authorities. But Plymouth will get £2.6million less than the Government has previously paid out.
From next April everyone of working age will need to pay something towards their council tax bill. Hardest hit will be those on Jobseeker's Allowance, who currently pay nothing at all. They will have to find £3.61 a week - or more than £180 per year.
Pensioners on low incomes will not see any cut in the support they get.
Plymouth will not take into account income from Disability Living Allowance.
War widows, widowers and veterans will also be protected as Plymouth's new scheme will not take into account war disablement pensions, unless they are of working age.
The single person discount will also be protected.
The council is proposing to set up a £100,000 exceptional hardship fund for those who cannot pay due to exceptional circumstances.
Council finance chief Mark Lowry told a Cabinet meeting yesterday that he will raise council tax by two per cent next April – unless there is an unexpected windfall from the Chancellor.
Cllr Lowry expects to hear details of next year's local government settlement on Wednesday next week.
The expected council tax rise – the first in three years – will raise an extra £2million.
Mr Lowry said the two per cent would absorb any increases in the amount taken by the police and the fire authority, which set their budgets separately.
Residents will be able to spread the cost by paying their bill over 12 months, instead of ten months as they do now.
"We feel this modest rise is the right thing to do to protect valuable services," Mr Lowry said.
Cllr Lowry said he had agreed with Cllr Mark Coker, the Cabinet member for transport, to freeze city centre parking charges for the next financial year.
"I have decided to do that to support business and life in the city centre," Cllr Coker said.
He declined to say whether any changes were likely in parking charges outside the city centre.
COUNCIL TAX IMPACT
CITY finance chief Cllr Mark Lowry has given examples of how the changes in benefits and council tax will affect residents.
Those on Jobseeker's Allowance, who now pay nothing will have to find £3.61 a week.
A couple with two children, who earn £475 a week and live in a Band B house, will see their council tax bill rise by £2.43 a week.
A benefit claimant with savings over £6,000 and living in a Band C home will have to pay an extra £3.79 a week.
A two per cent council tax increase will mean:
32p a week extra (£16.64 per year) for Plymouth's 46,000 Band A taxpayers
Band B: (31,000 homes) will pay 37p a week extra.
Band C: (21,800) 43p
Band D: (8,922) 48p
Band E: (4,539) 59p
Band F: (1,673) 69p
Band G: (578) 80p
Band H: (59) 96p – or £49.92 per year
PLYMOUTH IS BEING OVERLOOKED
THE Government's benefits squeeze will be used to pay for major building schemes, says city finance chief Cllr Mark Lowry.
Cllr Lowry, the Cabinet member for finance, said the Government was setting aside a £5.5billion infrastructure fund.
"You won't be surprised to learn that Plymouth will be worse off because we have to contribute some two per cent, or £4million, of our budget from April 2014 to support the Chancellor's new infrastructure fund. Sadly none of this will be spent around Plymouth. Once again the city is being overlooked."
And Cllr Mark Coker, the Cabinet member for transport, said: "It's about time the Government was fair to Plymouth."
Cllr Coker is travelling to London tomorrow for talks with the Secretary of State for Transport. The talks will centre on the stalled bidding process for the Great Western rail franchise.
Cllr Coker has put in bids for nine major transport schemes to the Heart of the South West local transport body.
He told a meeting of the city's Cabinet yesterday that after the change of government in 2010 an allocation of £77.2million for the Eastern Corridor high quality public transport scheme and £72million for the Northern Corridor high quality public transport scheme had been withdrawn.
Instead, the Government was allocating about £40million for projects across the local enterprise partnership area up to 2018/19.
Plymouth City Council is putting in bids worth £57million in total for nine projects: Forder Valley link road; Forder Valley road widening; Woolwell to the widening; Cattedown, Woolwell and Derriford roundabouts (conversion to signalised junctions); Marjon link road; Pomphlett roundabout to The Ride improvements including a signalised junction; Union Street – Octagon to Derry's Cross improvements.