A scenic view of Southport, including Kings Gardens, the Marine Lake, Bliss Hotel and the Marine Way Bridge. Photo by Andrew Brown Media

Owners of long-term empty homes in Sefton will soon be hit with 300% Council Tax bills in a bid to force them to bring their properties back into use. 

The scheme is due to the “ serious shortage of decent, affordable housing”, while properties that have been empty for some time are a blight on the local community. 

In his report to councillors, Executive Director of Corporate Resources and Customer Services Stephan Van Arendsen said: “There are currently more than 200,000 properties standing empty in England. 

“As well as being a blight on the local community and attracting squatters, vandalism and anti-social behaviour, long-term empty properties are a wasted resource when 1.16 million households are on social housing waiting lists. 

“Increasing the premium will allow local authorities to strengthen the incentive for owners of empty homes to bring them back into use.”

Increasing Council Tax bills will also raise more money for the local authority. It is forecast to increase Council Tax income by £116,900 in 2023/24 (Sefton’s share £98,000). 

Since 1st April 2013, councils have been able to charge a Council Tax premium on unfurnished properties that have been left empty for more than two-years as a means of incentivising owners of these properties to bring them back into use. 

The maximum allowable premium percentage was set at 50% between 1 April 2013 and 31 March 2019. 

The premium cannot be applied to homes that are empty due to the occupant living in armed forces accommodation for job-related purposes, or to annexes being used as part of a main property. Furthermore, the Council Tax system provides statutory exemptions for properties left empty for a specific purpose – for example, when a person goes into care. 

However, there is no statutory exemption from the premium for properties that are genuinely on the market for sale or letting. 

Councils also have powers to apply discretionary discounts in cases where homes are empty due to special circumstances – for example, financial hardship, fire or flooding. 

On 1 November 2018, the Government introduced legislation that would allow local authorities to increase the empty homes premium from 50% up to 300% over a three-year period with effect from 1st April 2019. 

Increasing the premium will allow local authorities to strengthen the incentive for owners of empty homes to bring them back into use. 

On 3 October 2022, there were 836 long-term empty properties paying a premium in Sefton. Of these 94 had been empty for ten years of more. This is expected to increase to 104 properties by 1 April 2023. 

Following a public consultation, Sefton Council approved an increase in the premium from 50% to 100% with effect from 1st April 2019 on properties left empty for 2 years or more. A further increase from 100% to 200% was introduced from 1st April 2020 on properties left empty for 5 years or more. 

A decision to increase the premium on properties left empty for 10 years or more from 200% to 300% was deferred as a result of the impact of Covid-19 on the housing market. 

As well as charging the empty homes premium, there are other Council initiatives to help bring empty homes back into use, this includes offering advice to owners through sending regular letters and the Council’s property accreditation scheme that helps empty homeowners find tenants for their property. The Council’s Housing Standards Team will also work with owners to bring their properties back into use. 

However, in some cases enforcement action is required when the property is causing a statutory nuisance and the owner is uncooperative or untraceable. 

It is now proposed that Sefton Council further increases the premium charge from 200% to 300% for properties empty for 10 years or more in-line with the maximum allowable under the new legislation from 1 April 2023. 

Stephan Van Arendsen said: “The aim of this increase would be to further incentivise owners of long-term empty properties to bring them back into use. This will increase the stock of available housing in the borough, which would assist in achieving the aims of the local development plan. “It will also increase the amount of Council Tax income raised from those that continue to leave their properties empty. 

“Making this change would bring Sefton into line with other councils in the Liverpool City Region (Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, and Wirral) who have already implemented this change.”  

Do you have a story for Stand Up For Southport? Please message Andrew Brown via Facebook here or email me at: mediaandrewbrown@gmail.com


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