Falkirk landlords face double tax bill

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Landlords and ‘buy to let’ property owners who allow their investments to lie empty for more than six months risk being hit by a double council tax bill.

In a bid to have vacant homes occupied more quickly and ease a chronic housing shortage, the Scottish Government is looking to bring in new rules which will allow councils to impose an excess charge of up to 100 per cent.

At the moment empty and unfurnished homes are exempt from council tax for the first six months and, after that, qualify for a 10 per cent discount.

But under the planned shake-up that deal will be scrapped and owners will face paying the full amount twice.

The government claim the scheme is an “incentive” for them to bring their empty properties back into productive use.

If they don’t make them available, the extra council tax they will pay will be used by councils to help build more houses for rent.

The idea has been put to all 32 local authorities for consultation, but Falkirk Council’s policy and resources committee gave it their support when it met.

Chief finance officer Bryan Smail said: “Removing the existing discount on long-term empty homes and introducing an excess charge has the potential to generate additional council tax income. This is particularly pertinent in the context of the longstanding council tax freeze.

‘‘The government estimates that if all 32 councils were to utilise the proposed new powers to the fullest extent it could generate an additional £30 million to be spent on affordable housing.”

Provost Pat Reid said: “This is an opportunity to increase revenue from empty properties and reduce their number but how we maintain an accurate record of empty houses has to be looked at.”

Councillor David Alexander, leader of the SNP Group, claimed: “We have seen irresponsible landlords taking advantage of the exemptions and they should be encouraged to make their properties available as soon as possible to ease the housing shortage, but landlords who are making efforts to market their properties should be exempt from the full penalties.”

The council has recommended landlords be given three months from the termination of one tenancy to re-let the property and owners with ‘difficult to sell’ homes one year from the date it was first put on the market to find a buyer before the levy applies.

It has also suggested homeowners be fined at least £200 if they fail to tell the council their home has been empty and unoccupied for six months.