Tax discount cut to ease housing crisis

First published in News Bicester Advertiser: Photograph of the Author by

COUNCIL tax discounts on empty and second homes are to be cut across Oxfordshire in a bid to get more homes into the market.

The county’s five authorities which manage council tax want to use new powers from the Government to cut back on discounts.

And three councils – Oxford, South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse – will add a 50 per cent premium on top of the Council Tax bill to further pressure some property owners of empty homes.

Four local authorities have announced full details of schemes affecting more than 6,000 properties which they expect to net an extra £377,872 next year.

It is hoped the move will help plug a gap left by a 10 per cent reduction in Government funding for council tax benefit.

All want to axe a 10 per cent council tax discount on about 2,500 second homes.

The changes will also cut: l The 100 per cent six-month discount on an estimated 4,600 vacant and empty homes to 25 per cent.

l The 100 per cent 12-month discount on an estimated 550 recently built or uninhabitable homes to 50 per cent. However Oxford will be 25 per cent.

l Oxford City Council and West Oxfordshire District Council will remove the 100 per cent discount on empty repossessed homes, affecting about 45 properties.

l Oxford, South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse will increase premiums on homes empty for more than two years from 100 to 150 per cent.

Oxford City Council – which gives £1.1m in discounts a year – expects to net an extra £145,000 from 480 empty and 891 second homes.

The council says the tax will “act more as a deterrent” rather than bringing in large sums of money.

Deputy city leader Ed Turner said: “Any empty home in this city and in this day and age is really quite scandalous, because it’s a home which could be occupied by somebody who really needs it. It’s incumbent on us to do whatever we can to bring empty homes back into use.”

But concerns were raised the cut would affect landlords who left their properties empty for short-term maintenance and the extra costs could eventually be passed to tenants.

Jan Bartlett, senior partner at Cowley Road’s Premier Lettings, warned: “Yet again it is another charge that will be passed on to the tenants. They can’t keep hitting landlords with these price increases.”

National Landlords Association senior policy officer David Cox said landlords strived to fill properties.

He said of the plans: “Something has to give but we don’t want it to be the quality of the accommodation.”

Oxford landlord Martin Young – who has claimed a second home discount – said: “Landlords have an economic incentive to get their homes let as it is, so there has to be a pretty good reason for them to leave a house empty.

“I don’t think this is going to make a huge difference.”

Cherwell District Council has yet to publish its plans but lead member for financial management Ken Atack pledged changes.

It is looking to axe the second home discount and discount for empty and uninhabitable homes, he said, adding: “Sometimes a social need must over-ride individual requirements.”

Vale leader Matthew Barber said the changes – to affect 1,151 homes – will help the case against “speculative” housing estate plans by bringing more properties to the market.

He added: “Some landlords are holding out for higher rents which are unaffordable at the moment.”

Across the country, about 250,000 homes are affected.

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