Council tax increases for Arun empty homes are backed

Councillors have backed increases to council tax which could see owners of empty homes paying a bill up to four times higher.

Empty home
Empty home

Higher bills were discussed during a meeting of Arun District Council’s residential and wellbeing services committee on Thursday (September 30).

There are currently 171 unfurnished properties that have been empty for more than two years in the district.

Changes could come into effect from April 1 and would see bills double for properties empty for between two and five years.

Properties that have been empty for five to ten years could be charged three times the normal council tax bill and those empty for ten years or more will see bills quadruple.

The committee’s recommendation will be taken to full council for consideration.

Emily Seex (Arun Ind, River) had concerns over potential loopholes and how the council determines whether a home is empty.

This was also recognised by Christopher Hughes (Con, Barnham), who said owners could use ‘a few sticks of furniture’ as a ‘get out clause’.

Officers said that they relied on owners applying for an unoccupied and unfurnished tax discount, which lasts for three months, in order to identify empty homes.

They explained: “If no one tells us a property is empty, we don’t know – It’s not financially viable for the council to inspect all properties.”

Officers added that these properties are dealt with on a ‘case by case basis’ and will be liable for extra charges if they are ‘substantially unfurnished’.

Pauline Gregory (LDem, Rustington West) said residents who inherit properties, namely retirement properties, had contacted her out of concern as they were struggling to sell up.

She said: “They asked me if I can do anything to get their council tax reduced.

“These properties are hard to sell as they are cheap to buy but expensive to run.”

Officers said that, if the changes are passed at full council, they would include waivers and exceptions for those trying to bring properties back into use – something that is not currently allowed.

Concerns over how soon the changes could come into force were expressed by Gill Yeates (LDem, Bersted).

She pointed out that April is only six months away and said she did not want to ‘push residents up against the wire’.

Council officers said that they hoped this would push empty homes owners to respond and the changes would be advertised in local newspapers.

‘The stick is currently not working’

A motion on empty homes from Matt Stanley (LDem, Marine), which was deferred from a full council meeting, was also discussed.

Mr Stanley said: “For me, there is no more sustainable way of providing a home than utilising the homes we already have available.

“I would like to make clear from the start that Arun performs extremely well on empty homes.

“However, it has been reported that Arun is on the fastest growing list for empty homes.

“This motion is intended to review that area of work and decide if, as a council, we’re committing the correct resource to this area. “

Mr Stanley said that 90 per cent of questions from owners about the empty homes grant scheme ‘don’t go any further than initial enquiry’.

He added: “Whilst tax can be used to force certain behaviours, I also think it’s important to reward the people who come forward.”

Ms Gregory agreed that a ‘carrot and stick model’ was best for bringing empty homes back into use but said that ‘the stick is not currently working’.

She said: “The council has a number of powers to encourage landlords to reinstate empty dwellings and a carrot/ stick is always best.

“But, at the moment, it’s not working. So to bring in the stick part will send a message to those people that we need those properties back in use.”

Currently, ADC charges a 50 per cent council tax premium on homes empty for two years or more.

Ms Seex agreed that tax rates for holiday homes should be reconsidered.

She said: “I think it’s fair that, if you’re fortunate enough to be able to afford a house for just occasional holiday use, you should compensate the local community for using up one of those family homes and not contributing to local economy.”

The committee supported Mr Stanley’s motion which asked for a report to be produced on council tax for empty and holiday homes, as well as reviewing incentives available for property owners and further promotion of the council’s empty homes service.