Agenda item

Select Committee Minor Review - Empty Homes Council Tax Premium


Liz Penny, Democratic Services Officer, introduced the minor review into the feasibility of increasing the Empty Homes Council Tax Premium, applicable to non-exempt properties empty for more than two years, from the current 150% to 200%.


Members heard from Tina, a Hillingdon resident, who was living next door to a property which had been empty for 13 years due to an ongoing probate issue. The Committee was informed that the house was in a state of disrepair and no longer habitable. The garden was overgrown and there was a rat infestation. Fly-tipping was also an issue. The condition of the neighbouring property was negatively impacting the value of Tina’s own property and she anticipated that it would be difficult to sell should she wish to move on.


Iain Watters, Director – Strategic and Operational Finance, was in attendance and addressed the Committee confirming that it was anticipated an increase to the premium would act as an additional mechanism to encourage owners to make better use of an empty property.


Maureen Pemberton, Head of Revenues, was also in attendance and advised Members that the Council Tax premium was only chargeable on unfurnished properties. In cases where there were probate issues it was often difficult to establish who was liable to pay Council Tax. Officers monitored all cases and collected the tax due whenever possible; however, this was particularly challenging in cases of family disputes and probate issues and could be resource intensive. The forced sale route was also expensive.


Debby Weller, Housing Policy and Strategy Manager, addressed the Committee and offered her sympathies to the resident. It was acknowledged that this case was very complicated due to probate issues hence legal advice would be sought. In general terms, it was hoped that an increase in the Council Tax premium would bring pressure to bear on owners and encourage them to bring empty properties back into use. At present there was no data available to measure the success of the increased premium across other West London boroughs.


In response to questions from the Committee, it was confirmed that there were currently 144 properties in Hillingdon which attracted the 150% empty homes premium. Each case was different and it was sometimes difficult to establish who was liable to pay the Council Tax - owners could not be traced, a property was still owned by the deceased or the deceased had had no family. In all cases Council Tax could not be charged until six months after probate had been decided.


Members requested a further breakdown of the 144 empty homes. It was confirmed that in approximately 60% of these cases, the empty homes premium was charged to a company or public organisation. The remaining 40% were privately owned. It was acknowledged that it was far easier to collect on commercial properties; the private cases were resource intensive and the costs of debt recovery could at times outweigh the financial benefit of recovering the Council Tax. Enforced sales were not a straightforward option for the Council at present and it was not possible to put a cap on the number of years a property could remain empty.


In response to further requests for clarification, Members heard that it was difficult to establish trends in other boroughs since the increase in premium was relatively new and the collection of taxes had been impacted by the pandemic. It was anticipated that the proposed increase in premium would bring some properties back into use, but it was not possible to confirm numbers at this stage. In cases like Tina’s, the Council’s Antisocial Behaviour Team would also be involved. It was confirmed that responsibility for empty properties lay with the private sector housing department. It was agreed that, following the meeting, officers would review the Council’s approach to empty homes and develop an Empty Homes Strategy in 2023 in order to set out a pathway to progress for the Council. Further research would be conducted into other Councils’ good practice, potential enforcement activity, costs and benefits and grant funding. All options would be considered to establish the most cost-effective and appropriate way forward.


It was agreed that Tina would be provided with a list of named contacts. Debby Weller would be requested to update the Select Committee once the new system was in place.


Tina was thanked for attending the meeting and for her invaluable testimony which had been extremely useful.


All Members indicated that they were in support of the proposed increase in premium from 150% to 200%. It was agreed that this matter would be re-visited once the ongoing review had been concluded.


RESOLVED: That the Residents’ Services Select Committee noted the evidence heard at the witness session, reviewed the findings and agreed the proposed increase to the current Empty Homes Council Tax Premium, applicable to non-exempt properties empty for more than two years, from the current 150% to 200%.

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