Your guide to the Empty Dwellings Bill

New legislation to encourage empty properties back into use is currently progressing through Parliament. The Bill, which could double the cost of council tax for landlords if they leave homes empty for two years, aims to reduce the number of long-term vacant properties in England.

A line by line examination of the Bill – and proposed amendments to it – was debated in the House of Lords at the last committee stage hearing in June.

The amendments debated in June suggested raising council tax increases even higher for properties vacant for five to 10 years and by up to 300 per cent for those empty for more than 10 years.

It was also suggested that the threshold for classing a property as empty should be reduced to one year, rather than two, with some debate around an allowance for landlords who had improved the energy performance of homes.

None of the amendments discussed were carried through to the next stage of the Bill’s reading however, with warnings by one of its sponsors, Lord Bourne, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, of turning council tax from a “source of funding into a more punitive type of measure”.

Lord Bourne also cautioned against a proposed amendment to allow councils the flexibility to tailor the length of time a home in their area can be empty for. The risk, he said, of the amendment proposed by Big Issue founder Lord Bird is that it may then extend the definition of ’empty’ to other properties that are periodically unoccupied or under-occupied such as second homes or job related dwellings, whereas the purpose of the legislation is long term empty property.

The number of dwellings left empty for six months dropped from just over 300,000 in 2010 to 205,293 by 2017, albeit with a small rise from the 200,145 recorded a year previously. The current level sits well below the 318,642 unoccupied homes when records began in 2004.

Currently, those who own an unfurnished property that is unlived in – known as an empty dwelling – are required to pay Council Tax but may qualify for a discount, although the Council Tax Empty Dwellings policy is less cut and dried as it used to be.

Before 1 April 2013 all empty property was eligible for exemption from Council Tax charges for the first six months but this has since changed. Unoccupied and substantially unfurnished properties are subject to a discount of anywhere between 0 per cent -100 per cent of their usual Council Tax rate as their local council’s discretion.

Michael Knibbs, Managing Director, SafeSite Security Solutions understands the challenges that landlords of vacant property face.

If you are the owner of a vacant property, the best thing to do is to establish what your local council’s policy on Council Tax for empty dwellings is, by contacting the Council Tax Office”, Knibbs advises.

Irrespective of the amount of time a property may lawfully be deemed to be ’empty’, a vacant home is still at risk from intruders and trespassers so it is essential that appropriate measures are taken to ensure its safety and security.

From screens and hoardings to alarms and CCTV systems, there’s a number of different ways to secure a vacant space or property, so landlords should find a solution that meets their needs and budget”, Knibbs added.

Update – at the time of writing the Third Reading of the Empty Dwellings Bill was scheduled to take place in the House of Lords on the 18th July 2018. At this session the government introduced an amendment that would allow councils to triple the council tax on homes left empty for five to 10 years and quadruple it on those empty for more than a decade. Decisions on whether to charge a premium, and the exact rates to be charged will remain a matter for councils, taking local circumstances into account. It is anticipated that councils will be able to charge 100% premiums from April 2019, 200% premiums from April 2020 and 300% premiums from 2021.

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