Government seeks tougher penalties for empty homes

Government seeks tougher penalties for empty homes (Laura young for Adfero)

The government is seeking to give local councils the right to impose double the normal rate of council tax on homes deliberately left empty by their owners. 

In a legislative move that will have significant implications for property investors in London and throughout England, the Rating (Property in Common Occupation) and Council Tax (Empty Dwellings) Bill will enable local authorities to slap 200 per cent council tax charges on any home that has been left empty for more than two years. 

Moreover, the funds raised can be used to keep council tax rates down for everyone else, providing a direct incentive to local authorities to take a firm line on empty properties. 

Local government minister Rishi Sunak said: "While we should celebrate the number of long-term empty homes dropping by a third since 2010, there are still 200,000 vacant properties across the country.

"This bill hands councils further tools to bring much-needed homes back into use and provide thousands of families with a place to call home."

The actual tally of empty homes peaked in 2004 at 318,000, with the coalition government making extensive efforts to reduce this number from 2010. This included legislation in 2013 to allow councils to impose a 50 per cent council tax surcharge on empty properties, a power the new law will beef up. 

While the number of empty homes fell to 200,000 by October 2016, it rose again to 205,000 a year later. 

The legislation may place more pressure on landlords with empty properties who have not made a decision on what to do with them to act swiftly. That could mean renting them out, while the alternative is to sell them on - a move that will in turn provide investment opportunities for others. 

Under the legislative timetable set out for the bill, the new council powers should pass into law next year.