Agenda item

Empty Properties (Council Tax Premium & Empty Dwelling Management Orders)


Iain Watters - Head of Finance – Financial Planning, Capital, Treasury & Systems, Maureen Pemberton – Head of Revenues, Debby Weller – Housing Policy and Strategy Manager and Mark Billings – Head of Housing Options, Homelessness and Standards presented the report which provided information in relation to the use of the Council Tax Premium and Empty Dwelling Management Orders.


Members were informed that there were currently approximately 1,100 empty and exempt properties in Hillingdon. It was confirmed that, since 1 April 2013, the Council had been able to charge an empty home premium on a property that had been unoccupied and unfurnished for two years or more. At the time the premium had been up to an extra 50% of the council tax on the property. Since 2019 it had been possible to increase this premium to 100% for properties that remained empty longer than two years. Further increases were now possible for properties empty for longer than 5 years (200%) and 10 years (300%). Hillingdon charged a 150% Empty Homes Premium at present.


In terms of Empty Dwelling Management Orders, the Committee heard that these were a useful tool but were currently used as a last resort due to the risks involved – it was often difficult to recover the costs involved in getting a property up to standard. The preferred approach at present was to offer advice and persuade owners to bring properties back into use. It was acknowledged that this was an area for review; further investigation was required to better understand the options open to officers and which were most beneficial / cost effective. Enforcement action was an option but none of the enforcement options were straightforward and all would require further resource.


Members requested further clarification regarding properties exempt from Council Tax – class F (6 months exemption following the grant of probate / letters of administration after the death of an occupier). It was confirmed that such situations would be monitored carefully and appropriate action taken. There was sometimes a delay in applications for probate or there could be a dispute therefore this was at times a lengthy process. In cases where the deceased had no family, the Council would look at land registry records or conduct other research in relation to the case.


The Committee requested further information regarding the 163 properties currently attracting the Empty Property Premium of 150%. It was confirmed that a breakdown of the banding for these properties could be obtained. 


In response to further questions from the Committee, it was confirmed that, where a property was found to be unoccupied, the recovery of an outstanding tax debt was challenging; the liable party had to be identified and located first to enable recovery action to be taken. An external inspection unit would be utilised to pursue the case and a statutory process through court would ensue which could ultimately lead to a charging order or forced sale.


Members enquired whether current legislation enabled the Council to do its job effectively. It was confirmed that, although the powers were generally in place,  processes were often lengthy and complex. More legislation to support the local authority would be welcomed. It was anticipated that an empty property strategy would be drafted later in the year to set out what could be done within existing resources. To date 4 of the 163 long term empty properties had been brought back in to use – it was hoped that this situation would continue to improve.


In terms of concerns re. fire safety, Members heard that the Council’s ASB team had the power to clear front gardens and could put a charge on an empty property. It was likely that this work would become increasingly important given the repercussions of climate change and its impact on the environment.


In response to Members’ enquiries, it was confirmed that officers already worked together to delegate tasks across departments; opportunities to improve on this would be investigated further. The Committee felt it should be easier for residents to report empty properties online (though it would not be possible to publish a full list of such properties across the Borough). It was confirmed that, at present, most of the information regarding empty properties was sourced from Council Tax records. Member enquiries in relation to empty properties were also encouraged.


Members were informed that, as part of the Housing and Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategies, an extensive project was underway across West London and Hillingdon regarding the best use of housing stock.


It was agreed that a potential increase in the premium chargeable on empty homes to 200% would be kept under review. Members requested sight of the new empty property strategy once available; it was agreed that this would be added to the Work Programme.




1.    That the Residents’ Services Select Committee Work Programme be updated to include the new empty property strategy; and


2.    That the Residents’ Services Select Committee noted the position on Council Tax charges for empty properties and Empty Dwelling Management Orders.

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