The Scottish Government should use funds raised from a new tax on empty homes to fund a programme of renovation for Scotland’s 23,000 long-term empty properties.
That is the call from housing and homelessness charity Shelter Scotland as it responds to a Scottish Government consultation to give councils new powers to increase council tax – up to double the standard charge – on long term empty homes.
According to Shelter Scotland, which facilitates the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership, 23,000 private homes in Scotland have been lying empty for six months or more.
Graeme Brown, Director of Shelter Scotland, said:
“What we need is a package of carrots and sticks. The incentive is that owners will get help to bring the property into use, whether to rent or to sell. This is a win for the owner, for the community and for the new occupants. The stick is the financial penalty on property that lies empty and unused for a long time and where the owner is not engaging with a local authority.
“But that will not happen if the additional tax income simply disappears into the general funds of councils. Scottish ministers need to make clear that they expect to see an empty homes dividend.”
At present, owners of long-term empty homes are charged council tax at between 50% and a maximum 90% of the standard charge. The first 50% of the tax goes into the general council tax pot; with the remaining sum earmarked for investment in affordable housing.
The Scottish Government has proposed increasing that maximum amount to up to 200% – double the standard charge. Shelter Scotland has welcomed that move but has argued that the tax will work best as part of a package which offers advice and assistance to owners and where financial assistance such as loans are offered to owners if necessary. For that to happen, the charity argues, the Scottish Government needs to ensure that all additional income is retained for affordable housing.
The call from Shelter Scotland comes on the back of a week-long series of programmes on the Great British Property Scandal, with a major emphasis on the problem of empty homes. The campaign has had 92,719 sign ups and 4,823 empty homes have been reported. Meanwhile the number of empty properties reported to the www. www.reportemptyhomes.com website has doubled. The website allows members of the public to report the address or postcode of a suspected empty home with the information then fed back to the council.
Notes to Editors:
1. Shelter Scotland provides expert support services, online advice and a free national helpline for everyone facing housing and homelessness difficulties. For advice and support visit http://scotland.shelter.org.uk or call 0808 800 4444.
2. Shelter Scotland's response to Scottish Government 'Council Tax on Long Term Empty Properties and the Housing Support Grant – Consultation on Proposals for Legislation' can be found at: http://scotland.shelter.org.uk/professional_resources/policy_library/policy_library_folder/council_tax_on_long_term_empty_properties_and_the_housing_support_grant_consultation_on_proposals_for_legislation_shelter_scotland_response
3. Spokespeople are available for interview – call the media office on 0844 515 2442. An ISDN line is available for broadcast interviews.
4. The Partnership Advisory Board includes:
a. Scottish Government
c. Shelter Scotland
d. Scottish Housing Best Value Network
e. Scottish Rural and Property Business Association
f. Historic Scotland
g. Rural Housing Service
5. The Scottish Empty Homes Partnership provides good practice to councils and their partners through the production of guides, facilitation of seminars and training, and one to one consultancy and advice. The Partnership also has a role in making recommendations to government where barriers to private sector empty homes work in Scotland are identified.
Shelter Scotland believes everyone should have a home. We help people find and keep a home. We campaign for decent housing for all.
Contact: Sabina Kadic-Mackenzie
Phone: 0844 515 2442