Express & Star

Council tax rises for second homes and empty properties is approved

Council tax charges for second homes in Stafford Borough are set to double in April 2025.

Stafford Borough Council's Civic Centre at Riverside Stafford

Stafford Borough Council already charges 100% council tax on homes which are unoccupied and “substantially furnished”, but changes to legislation mean that this can be increased to 200%.

A 100% “empty homes premium” – to be paid on top of the full council tax already charged – will come in from next month for properties left “unoccupied and substantially unfurnished” for more than a year as part of the authority’s ongoing drive to bring more homes back into use.

And a current 12-month council tax exemption is set to be removed from next month on properties that are “unoccupied, substantially unfurnished, uninhabitable and in need of or undergoing major repair of structural alteration”.

A report to Tuesday’s full council meeting said: “This reduction is often misunderstood and whilst it is intended to cover property in the poorest of states, often results in claims from people who have bought or inherited property in poor states of cleanliness and decoration, or property which requires replacement of electrical installations and plumbing. These works are not sufficient to attract the reduction.

“A considerable amount of time is spent by the Revenues Team administering this exemption which could be saved and used more productively, if it were to be removed. There is no particular evidence to suggest that applying the exemption has incentivised owners to renovate property and it may well be that removing it may expedite the repair works and re-use of the dwellings.

“The expression ‘second home’ can be a little misleading. The term is used to describe a dwelling which is nobody’s main home but is substantially furnished and so covers a multitude of scenarios.

“Some second homes are abandoned premises which happen to be furnished, whereas others will be well maintained and in regular use, albeit not as a main home. Any charges that we apply to second homes will apply equally to all, with the exception of those exempted by statute.”

The proposed changes are set to affect 338 second homes and 194 properties left empty for at least 12 months in the borough.

But opposition group leader Councillor Jeremy Pert put forward an amendment seeking exemptions to the charges, which would allow a 12-month deferral for properties undergoing probate and a six-month deferral for properties being actively marketed for sale or let.

A six month deferral on empty homes premium was also proposed for properties undergoing major repairs, once these had started. And exceptions to the second home premium were proposed for annexes classed as part of a main home, job-related dwellings, occupied caravan pitches and boat moorings and seasonal homes where year-round or permanent occupation is prohibited.

He said: “Having empty homes is a poor use of property that could be made available for wider use, especially when there is a need to build more homes. And this council has undertaken a consistently strong but fair position in bringing empty properties back into use over the past decade or more.

“Given this, there can be many reasons why a property is empty and it is not always a deliberate choice – for example probate following someone’s death can take between six months and two years and bringing back long term empty homes into use can take upwards of 12 months. Sometimes the delay in bringing a property back into use can be outside the owner’s control – for example being reliant on a planning permission that can take 12 months end to end to secure.”

The amendment failed to gain enough votes to be carried however. The full council went on to approve the proposed charges and remove the 12-month exemption currently given to some uninhabitable homes from April 1.

Councillor Ralph Cooke, cabinet member for resources, said: “Reasons for the recommendations include encouragement of owners to engage with the council to speed up the occupation of existing properties. There is a greater proportion of empty properties in this borough than in comparable authorities, despite our Empty Homes Strategy and an Empty Homes Officer dedicated to bringing properties back into use.

“There is significant demand for housing in the borough for purchase and rent. We have housing pressures in this authority, thus empty and poorly-utilised properties are a wasted resource that could be used to house families in the borough.

“The Empty Homes Officer routinely receives complaints from neighbours about unkempt properties that are recorded as second homes because they are furnished, but in reality are as problematic as if they were empty properties. There will be support by council staff, council tax staff and the Empty Homes Officer to help affected owners to make informed choices about the future use of their assets, whether that is to pay any additional premium or put the asset on the market for sale or rent.”

Councillor Tony Pearce welcomed the proposals. He said: “In the ward I represent (Castletown), a number of houses were empty for many years – the irony is these houses were owned by the county council and kept empty for a period of about 15 years at a time when many people were desperate for homes.

“Eventually the houses were sold at auction, but several were bought by a developer who didn’t have the resources to do the work necessary. The houses then suffered a number of fires.”

Councillor Mark Winnington said the homes were acquired by the county council to protect the proposed route of the Stafford Western Access Route before the road was eventually constructed however.

He described the reason for the proposals as “laudable”, but raised concerns about the impact on those offering their properties as accommodation for visitors to the area.

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