News In Focus
Unoccupied Properties Bill passes final stage
31 October 2012
The Local Government Finance (Unoccupied Properties etc) (Scotland) Bill passed its final stage in the Scottish Parliament today, paving the way for higher council tax to be levied on empty homes and reduced rates relief for vacant cmmercial properties.
When the bill comes into force, local authorities will be able to charge up to double the current level of council tax on certain homes that have stood empty for more than a year. There are currently more than 25,000 long-term empty homes in communities across Scotland.
In addition to the reduced rates relief on empty commercial properties, there will be a 50% rates discount to anyone taking on a shop or office that has been empty for 12 months under the Government's Fresh Start scheme.
Housing Minister Margaret Burgess said that increasing council tax on empty homes would encourage owners to bring them back into use. "While people across Scotland need new homes, it is completely unacceptable that 25,000 houses are lying empty long term and of no use to anybody", she commented.
"Not only that, empty homes can become a magnet for vandalism and anti-social behaviour, dragging down whole communities."
Regulations recently put out for consultation are expected to be laid before Parliament in December so that councils can, if they wish, start charging a council tax increase from April 2013.
It is currently proposed that the regulations will:
- continue to provide a full council tax exemption for empty and unfurnished homes for the first six months they are empty;
- allow councils to offer a discount of between 10 and 50% for homes empty for between six and 12 months (currently a 50% discount must be provided during this period);
- allow councils flexibility to apply different rates of discount or increase in different parts of their area, or to increase council tax charges the longer a home has been empty;
- require councils not to impose an increase for up to two years after becoming empty for homes being marketed for sale or let – these owners would still pay council tax (unless subject to another exemption), but would get a discount;
- define a long-term empty home as a home which is unoccupied, but can be furnished or unfurnished.