News In Focus
Bill adds to tax burden on empty homes and shops
Empty homes and business premises in Scotland will become liable to additional council tax or rates bills under a new bill introduced to the Scottish Parliament.
The Local Government Finance (Unoccupied Properties etc) (Scotland) Bill aims to disincentivise owners from leaving properties empty, tackle the housing shortage and provide additional revenue for local authorities.
It will enable the Scottish Government to bring forward regulations to allow Scottish local authorities to increase council tax charges on certain long-term empty homes from April 2013, and alter the level of empty property relief from April 2013 for certain empty commercial properties under the non-domestic rates regime.
Ministers have indicated that in place of the current council tax discount for empty homes, the tax charge could double after a year.
There are about 25,000 homes in Scotland lying empty, and, at present, empty and unfurnished properties are exempt from council tax for the first six months. After that period, they qualify for a 10% discount.
The business rates discount for some empty commercial properties will be cut from 50% to 10%.
A £2m loan fund has also been announced to help social landlords and councils buy up and refurbish abandoned houses for affordable housing.
Housing Minister Keith Brown said: "Long-term empty homes are a blight on communities. They often fall into disrepair, and become a focus for antisocial behaviour like vandalism or fly tipping. We will not simply stand by and let this continue to happen."
CBI Scotland said the measures affecting business rates could have a negative impact, as commercial premises were seldom left empty on purpose and the move would affect cash flow and put off private sector investment.
Assistant director David Lonsdale said: "Ministers claim the extra tax will 'incentivise' the use of empty properties, but it feels more like a stick than a carrot."