Moves to end empty homes 'madness' due to be revealed
The Government is due to announce tomorrow an end to the "madness" of a tax system which encourages owners to leave houses standing empty, despite the desperate need for homes.
Councils across the country are expected to collect a total of £420 million through additional taxes on second home owners and owners of properties which have been empty for two years or more.
Cornwall Council alone is expected to net at least £2 million from an end to the second home owner tax discount, and the money will be generated into easing the affordable housing crisis in the area, senior councillors pledge.
Around 25,000 homes in Devon and Cornwall currently stand empty, despite huge housing waiting lists. But soon, councils will have the power to add an empty homes tax premium of 50 per cent to the bill of properties which have lain uninhabited for two years or more.
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Andrew Stunell, the Lib Dem communities minister, will confirm the moves at the National Empty Homes conference tomorrow.
He will say: "We've lived with the scourge of empty homes for too long. They're a blight on our communities and a waste of much-needed housing. It's madness that councils have been forced to offer discounts on empty and second homes, which don't take into account local circumstances and provide an incentive to leave homes vacant indefinitely."
Yesterday, Mark Kaczmarek, Cornwall Council's cabinet member for housing, said the authority had 25,000 people on its housing register. "It's absolutely morally wrong to have properties empty when they could be rented out or sold and actually used," he said. "No home should be empty here in Cornwall, and whatever we can do to get them back into use, the better."
He said some communities had been particularly hard hit by second home ownership. "We have fishing villages where the fishermen don't stand a chance of getting a home," he said.
In Devon, the South Hams is one of the areas worst hit by second home ownership, which accounts for roughly one in ten of the district's properties, a total of around 4,500.
John Tucker, leader of South Hams District Council, said the extra income would be around £50,000 per year, once other authorities had taken their tax precept. He welcomed the money, but warned that it would be difficult to monitor the scale of the problem once owners had no incentive to identify themselves. "Nobody is going to register as a second home owner if they're not going to save any money, and especially not if they have to pay more, as some have suggested they should," he said. "But in our view, if you can afford to have a second home, you should have to pay the tax on it like everyone else."