955 Empty Highland Properties Now Charged Double Council Tax
5th December 2019
A question from Councillor Ben Thomson to Highland Council meeting next week.
To the Chair of the Corporate Resources Committee
"What reassurance can the Council provide that it is applying discretion where appropriate to the imposition of the 200% Council Tax rate applicable to empty homes? i.e. what proportion of empty homes in Highland currently benefit from a discretionary reduction in the 200% rate and for what reasons has discretion generally been applied".
Response to Mr B Thompson
The Council Tax (Variation for Unoccupied Dwellings) (Scotland) Regulations 2013 provides local authorities with the power to apply a maximum 100% levy (i.e. a 200% council tax charge) on long-term empty homes; to determine the circumstances in which the increase applies; and to use levy income for local priorities. For council tax purposes, properties that have been unoccupied for 1 year or more fall within the long-term empty definition. Safeguards mean that the charge may be delayed in certain circumstances. For example, homes being marketed for sale or let are exempt from the council tax levy until they have been unoccupied for 2 years or more.
The policy intent of the legislation is to encourage owners to bring their properties back into use in order to increase housing supply and to avoid unoccupied houses from falling into disrepair.
The Council's local policy was implemented from 1 April 2015 and provides for an element of discretion, in certain circumstances. There are currently 1,486 long term properties across Highland of which, 64% (955) are subject to the 100% levy (i.e. 200% charge).
Properties that fall within the remaining 36% satisfy the discretionary elements of the local policy. Accordingly, these properties do not currently attract the 100% levy. By way of example, this includes properties where renovation works are nearing completion and those properties that are difficult to sell/let.
Following on from the recent publication of Highland Council's Supporting Economic Recovery in Highland - A Guide for Businesses - the Council is announcing relaxation of some controls that will assist tourist accommodation providers have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. In recognition of this where there are specific planning and licensing controls in relation to occupancy, for example: a restriction on the occupancy of any caravan for a continuous 12 month period; or where conditions restrict occupancy for specific periods of time, ...these will be relaxed by the Council up to and including April 2021.
The Caithness Committee met virtual today for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic and it's agenda focused on the actions taken by the Council and the third sector to deal with the effects of Coronavirus in Caithness. The Executive Chief Officer for Education and Learning, Paul Senior, gave members an update on the plans and preparations underway to prepare for the return of pupils and staff to Caithness schools in August.
Margaret Davidson, the Leader of the Highland Council has given her strong support to the efforts of the Scottish Government to obtain greater fiscal flexibility from the UK Government. The Scottish Government have sought flexibility to offset capital underspend against resource expenditure, more flexibility over resource borrowing and greater flexibility over the use of the reserve for capital.
The Highland Council is planning to re-open play areas across the region throughout summer. Advice was provided by the Scottish Government on 28 June as to the safety measures that should be applied.
The Highland Council was one of the first local authorities in Scotland recognised to develop a Schools Digital Learning Hub, which provides a resource for staff, parents and pupils to support home learning. Prior to Covid-19, we had an estate of 27,000 Chromebooks that were already a part of our ICT in Learning Strategy.
Earlier today (Wednesday 1 July 2020) members of The Highland Council's Economy and Infrastructure Committee had the opportunity to discuss (by video conference) progress made with the Corran Ferry Project which is reviewing the options for securing a replacement ferry and considering the way forward for the future operation and management of the service. The Corran ferry service has reached a critical point and strategic decisions need to be made.
As Scotland prepares for the easing of lockdown and the re-opening of the tourism and hospitality sector, The Highland Council's Environmental Health are advising holiday accommodation providers to make sure their private water supplies are safe to drink. A large number of self-catering and tourist accommodation in the Highlands are served by private water supplies and with these being closed during the lockdown period, the water supply system may not have been maintained and could create a risk to the quality and safety of the drinking water.
Lesley, who previously worked for Hackney Local Authority in London, expressed how much she has enjoyed working for the Council. Lelsey started with highland council on 13 August 2019.
Following Scottish Government guidance on returning to construction sites across Scotland, works will be restarting on the EES:ABS scheme across the Highlands. In line with the guidance, contractors will be undertaking phased restarts and adhering to social distancing to allow workers to return to construction sites gradually while using measures such as hand hygiene.
Two prominent derelict buildings in Wick High Street are to be demolished following decades lying empty. Numbers 30 and 126 (known locally as Dominoes (the former cinema) and Sloans are to benefit from demolition and site clearance, before ownership is returned to the local community.