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Council to levy 50% extra tax on empty homes to tackle housing shortage

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Houses for sale in Gosport Lane in Lyndhurst
Houses for sale in Gosport Lane in Lyndhurst

OWNERS of long-term empty homes in the New Forest will have to pay 50% extra council tax next year, under plans agreed by the district council to force vacant dwellings back into use.

The ruling Conservative cabinet agreed on Wednesday that from April 2019 the additional charge will be levied on the nearly 160 domestic properties left unoccupied and largely unfurnished for two years or more.

The intention is to review the figures in 2020 with an eye to deploy new freedoms granted by the government to increase the additional charge for such dwellings even further to 100% – doubling their council tax bill. It will not apply to property owners in care homes.

The scheme was presented at the meeting at Appletree Court in Lyndhurst by Cllr Jeremy Heron, the cabinet member for finance, corporate services and improvement, after being investigated by a task group of councillors.

He said: “This is not expected to gain massive amounts of revenue as there are only a few empty homes in the Forest

“But it is important to put down a marker that we are keen to put more houses into use.

“It was very much supported by the task and finish group as the direction of travel of the council.”

No change was proposed for second home-owners paying full council tax, which was welcomed by backbencher Allan Glass.

He said: “It’s good to see holiday homes are being charged the same as normal homes, because if you can afford a holiday home, why should you get a benefit above people trying to live here?”

An idea being dropped is to invite residents of the most expensive Band H properties to volunteer an extra payment of up to £500 as part of their council tax.

The “begging letters” suggestion was investigated by the task group of councillors after being proposed in February by Cllr David Harrison, leader of NFDC’s Liberal Democrat group.

It would have been similar to a scheme run by Westminster Council which, a cabinet report said, has raised £400,000 from 2% of Band H households contributing.

A maximum of only £6,000 would be generated in the New Forest based on a similar response by its 600 Band H households, the report stated – which it was felt could not justify the cost of the scheme nor the potential impact on charitable giving.

Unoccupied, unfurnished properties empty for up to half a year will also keep their 100% discount on the first month.

Those requiring major works to be habitable will keep a 50% discount for a year.

Following a 5.6% overall hike last year, the combined 2018/19 bill for average Band D properties in the New Forest is £1,693.78 of which the district council charges £168.36.

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