Council tax bills could soar in Wakefield to tackle empty homes

COUNCILLORS in Wakefield are considering whether to hit the owners of empty homes where it hurts – in the wallet – to encourage them to bring these properties back into use.

At a meeting next week, the council’s cabinet will decide on whether to increase charges on top of the council tax to provide that incentive and reduce the number of empty homes in the borough.

The proposal is to increase the Empty Homes Premium (EHP) from its current level of 50% of the council tax bill up to a maximum 300%. The premium applies to homes left empty and unfurnished for two years or more. It is charged in addition to the basic council tax and would increase the longer the property stays empty.

There’s a further incentive on the cards for those who have bought an empty property. The council’s cabinet will be asked to approve the removal of the EHP for new owners, who buy a house that is already paying the premium. To encourage them to move in sooner the premium would not be charged for three months, from the date of purchase.

“With demand for housing increasing it is important that we tackle this issue,” said Councillor Denise Jeffery, cabinet member for economic growth and regeneration. “The figures show that the work we do is making a difference across our district and is helping to turn empty properties into much-need homes for single people, couples and families.

“Since introducing this premium we have reduced the number of properties that are left empty and given residents a place they can call home.

“We will consider these new plans at the meeting which go further and give people even more of an incentive to sell or buy an empty property.”

Amended legislation from central government allows councils to raise the EHP over time. Under the new proposals, which would take effect in April, the premium would rise to 100% for properties that have been unoccupied for two years or more.

In 2020 a property unoccupied for over five years would pay a 200% premium. A 300% premium would be introduced in 2021 for homes left empty for ten years or more.

“As a council we are proactive in helping owners to make their properties available to those in need of accommodation,” Jeffery added. “We provide interest free loans, advice on selling and repairing a property as well as support in putting homes on the market.”

The proposals will be discussed by Wakefield Council’s cabinet on Tuesday, 12 February.