- Councils welcome the new powers in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill to charge a second homes premium, and for the minimum time before the empty homes premium can be applied to be reduced from two to one year. This gives councils more powers to influence the housing market locally. It should be noted that the powers are discretionary and not statutory.
- There has been some concern from councils that due to the requirement to give one financial year’s notice of the use of the second homes power, that the earliest that it can come into effect is now 1st April 2025.
- The present consultation states that responses to this consultation will be used to inform regulations, which prescribe exceptions to the council tax premiums, and the guidance which will be issued to billing authorities. This means that the Secretary of State proposes to use his statutory powers to prescribe categories of dwelling to which the discretionary premium should not apply. These are powers which he has not previously used in respect of the Empty Homes Premium.
- We also note that the Department for Communities and Local Government issued guidance in 2013 on the empty property premium regarding properties for sale or let. This states that it should not be treated as an interpretation of the legislation or as statutory guidance and that billing authorities are free to make their own decisions when administering the premium.
- There is no specific question in the consultation on whether the government should expand the existing guidance or whether it needs to make use of the statutory powers to make regulations. We consider that the Government needs to assure itself that it has adequately taken account of the sector’s views on whether regulation is necessary or not in each specific instance. The argument for regulation is that it gives more certainty to billing authorities. The argument for the expanding the existing guidance is that it would give councils more flexibility and ability to take into account local circumstances.
Do you agree that properties that are unoccupied or have no resident following the death of the owner should be an exception to either or both of the council tax premiums following the grant of probate or letters of administration?
Unoccupied properties already benefit from a mandatory council tax exemption following the death of a previous occupier up to the point where probate is granted and for six months after this. The question relates to whether there should be a further period of exemption when normal council tax would apply but before either premium applies. We agree that these cases should be treated sensitively whether or not they are the subject of regulation or guidance. Our preference would be for councils to use their discretion to extend beyond the six months without the need for these cases to be included in statutory regulation.
Do you agree that a period of 12 months after probate, or letters of administration have been granted, is an appropriate period?
Councils should have discretion to extend the period before either premium applies by up to a further 12 months, but we do not think it should be a statutory exemption.
Do you agree that properties actively being marketed for sale or let should be an exception to either or both of the council tax premiums?
As discussed above, there is already non-statutory guidance on the empty homes premium. This makes reference to councils taking into account how long properties in their area have been available for sale or rent before completion/occupation. Any regulations and/or guidance would need to be framed carefully to reduce the scope for avoidance as far as possible.
Do you think an exception to the premiums for up to 6 months for properties being marketed for sale or let is a reasonable period?
Any property benefitting from this exception should be genuinely marketed for sale or let. Making this discretionary rather than statutory would give councils more powers to ensure that properties taking advantage of this exception are genuinely being marketed for sale or let.
Do you agree that the evidence requested above would be appropriate to demonstrate that the property is actively being marketed for sale or let?
Yes, we agree that evidence of active marketing, such as evidence from a sales agent or website, is appropriate. Councils may wish to continue to monitor to check that the property is still being actively marketed during the six months’ period and that the asking price is realistic taking into consideration the current state of the market.
Do you agree that properties undergoing major repair work is appropriate should be an exception to the empty homes premium?
When a property has been empty for a considerable time major repair work may be necessary so there is a case for an exception for a period. This is one of the points that should be contained in regulations or non-statutory guidance which billing authorities will wish to have regard to.
If so, do you agree that 6 months is a reasonable length of time for an exception to apply whilst major repairs or structural alterations are being undertaken?
Councils will want to take account of all the circumstances surrounding major repairs before deciding whether to apply the premium. Some major repairs may be complete before six months and councils should have discretion to apply the premium if that is the case.
Do you agree that this exception should only be applied to the empty homes premium?
Councils will wish to consider all the circumstances before applying either premium. An empty home is more likely than a second home to require major repairs or structural alterations.
Do you agree that furnished annexes which are being used as part of the sole or main residence should be an exception to the council tax premium on second homes?
We agree that the policy objective of the second homes premium is not to change the status of furnished annexes which are being used as part of an adjacent sole or main residence. However, this should not apply to a furnished annex where the main residence is elsewhere.
Question 10 – Do you agree that the second homes premium should not apply to properties that are subject to the job-related dwelling discount?
We agree that this should be subject of guidance or regulations.
Do you agree that pitches occupied by caravans and moorings occupied by boats should be an exception to the second homes premium?
We agree that this should be subject of guidance or regulations.
Do you agree that seasonal homes, where year-round occupation is prohibited, should be an exception to the second homes premium?
We agree that councils may wish to consider exempting seasonal homes where year-round occupation is prohibited. However, where such properties constitute a sizable proportion of properties liable to the second homes premium, councils may consider whether the premium should apply. This could be a matter for billing authority discretion.
Are there any other circumstances in which property should be an exception to either of the council tax premiums and if so, why?
As stated throughout this consultation, the Government should consider whether its policy objectives can be achieved through guidance before issuing statutory regulations.