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.
The first meeting of The Highland Council's new Housing and Property Committee will take place on Wednesday 29 January following a decision by members in December to approve the establishment of a new strategic committee structure. The first item on the agenda for members will be to confirm the role and remit of this newly established committee which will be chaired by Lochaber Councillor, Ben Thompson.
Highland councillors will be asked a the meeting on 29th January 2020 of the newly created Housing and Property committee to agree to increase council house rents by 3% for 2021. This would result in an increase in the average weekly council house rent from £75.38 to £77.64 (£2.26 per week).
Highland Council must make significant savings and change the way it delivers services to ensure it can live within its financial means. A report by the Accounts Commission, Scotland's local authority watchdog, says in recent years the council has had a poor record of delivering on savings.
Storm Brendan has taken its toll on roads and infrastructure across the Highlands. Localised flooding, wind and ice has caused damage to roads, paths, car parks and walls in numerous areas including Applecross, Lochaber and Caithness and Sutherland.
The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) has launched a campaign to persuade the Finance Secretary Derek Mackay MSP to invest in Scotland's councils before it is too late. COSLA has produced a briefing document Invest in Essential Services which clearly shows the reduction to Local Government funding since 2013/14 and how the flexibility councils have to spend their budget has been eroded by the Scottish Government.
Local authorities are to be given new powers to regulate short-term lets where they decide this is in the interests of local communities. Housing Minister Kevin Stewart announced measures in the Scottish Parliament to provide local authorities with the ability to implement a licensing scheme for short-term lets from spring 2021.
Big-hearted Highland Council staff and members have dug deep into their pockets at an already expensive time of year to help two important charities in the region. Staff at Highland Council headquarters have been fundraising for the Highland Hospice through a charity raffle, coffee morning and staff pantomime.
The Highland Council is reminding householders and businesses to reduce, reuse and recycle as much as possible over the festive period to prevent unnecessary waste. Christmas is often a time of excess waste, particularly when it comes to food.
The Highland Council notifies its service users and customers of its opening hours and service arrangements over the festive period. The Highland Council Service Centre will close at 4pm on 24 December 2019.
Highland Council will be testing the market by contacting prospective contractors (scheduled to be sent out 6th January 2020) to give notice that a procurement for the Corran ferry service may be coming forward. A questionnaire will seek the views of suppliers and potential suppliers of ferry services to the Council.
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