To consider the amended proposals for Council Tax Discount and Premia.
Note – Councillor John Holmes whilst having no voting rights as a Member of the Shadow Cabinet, declared a non-pecuniary interest in this item, by virtue of the fact that he was nominated by SLDC as a Director of South Lakes Housing. He remained in the meeting during discussion and voting on the item.
Note – Councillor Kevin Lancaster whilst having no voting rights as a Member of the Shadow Cabinet, declared a disclosable pecuniary interest in this item, by virtue of the fact that he was the owner of a property that was affected by the proposals. He was disconnected from the meeting for the remainder of the item.
The Finance and Resources Portfolio Holder highlighted the decision from the November Cabinet meeting, where three sets of changes where agreed. These included an increase to the Council Tax premium on properties empty for more than two years, a reduced discount period for unoccupied and unfurnished properties from six months to one month and the removal of the 100% relief for Council Tax for 12 months for properties undergoing major repairs and structural alterations. The three changes were subject to a 6 week consultation period, during which 93 responses were received.
The consultation period returned reasonable support for the increase in Council Tax on empty properties, but strong resistance to the proposal to reduce the Council Tax discount on unoccupied and unfurnished properties from six months to one month. Many landlords had felt that this provided an inadequate period between rentals and that the 28 day period was insufficient to undertake refurbishment works. As a result, the Council now proposed to allow the unoccupied and unfurnished discount to apply for up to 3 months.
The final proposal, linked to major repair and structural alteration, saw the majority of respondents opposed to the change. However, the impact of this change needs to be considered against the overall cost of issuing this discount overall and the proposal still appears to be a fair reflection of the limited financial saving through reducing council tax compared to the overall costs of renovation and repairing properties.
In concluding his report, the Finance and Resources Portfolio Holder explained that the overall financial impact of these changes had been small, the overall cost of the reliefs by £57,000 with the Council’s share being £6,000, the overall benefit for the Council over the next financial year reduces from £49,000 to £43,000. He reminded Members that these changes had been driven by the desire to get fairness between Council Tax payers, ensuring that the reliefs had gone to those that need them most, to simplify the processes and reduce work for officers; and to get empty properties back into long-term use.
During discussion, questions were raised on the impact of the proposals on private landlords who may have to renovate properties to meet Energy Performance Certificate requirements and multiple occupancy units belonging to Social Housing organisations, as it was entirely possible to see huge amounts of houses renovated to comply with the climate change regulations and the associated costs would be tremendous. The Leader requested that Officers provided a written response to this question.
Further discussion raised a question over the provision for very old buildings that had been empty for long periods of time within the proposals and if there had been any concessions for those who owned historically and culturally important houses but were unable to live in them or use them.
The Housing and Innovation Portfolio Holder informed Members that there were very few multiple occupancy units in the district and that there are grants available to property owners and landlords.
The Finance and Resources Portfolio Holder informed Members that where a property was in a severe state of dereliction, it was possible to apply to remove it from the Council Tax band but the aim was to ensure that habitable properties are made into homes.
The Leader emphasised the Council’s desire to reduce the number of empty homes and added that if Members were aware of any empty homes, to let the appropriate officer know.
The Leader asked the meeting if the motion was agreed. There was no dissent.
RESOLVED – That:-
(1) the proposals in the report be noted; and
(2) the amended proposals outlined in Paragraph 3.1 be approved for consideration by Council.
Reasons for Decision
It is expected that these proposals will encourage owners of empty properties to make them available for housing, either by putting them up for sale or rent, thereby increasing housing across the district.
Alternation Options Considered and Rejected
Unoccupied and Unfurnished
The discount can be removed altogether, or awarded for a specified period of up to the 6 month period currently offered by SLDC.
To remove the discount altogether would disadvantage residents moving between properties, particularly those in rented properties as there is often a slight overlap in tenancy dates. If the discount was removed altogether they would incur a council tax charge for this period of the overlap and this would lead to a rise in complaints and perhaps non-payment. Often we are given conflicting dates relating to moves in and out and by retaining a discount period of up to one month this should cover any such cases and avoid bills being issue for a period of a day. It was also felt reasonable to allow a short period of discount to allow landlords time to find new tenants before incurring a council tax charge but that leaving the period of discount at 6 months reduces the financial incentive for the property to be reoccupied.
Major Repair/ Structural Alteration
Should a discount be offered it must be offered for the full 12 month period, however the discount can be set at an amount between 0% and 100%. An alternative would be to retain the current level of 100% discount or reduce the amount to say 50%. By offering 100% discount there is no financial incentive for the property to be reoccupied and there is an administrative cost in dealing with the applications for discount. If a lesser amount was offered that may be received better by taxpayers who are undertaking works to their properties, however the administrative cost would remain the same irrespective of level of discount offered.
It is also anticipated that should the proposal to reduce the unoccupied and unfurnished discount to three months be approved there would be an increase in applications for the major repair/structural alteration discount.
The level of premium charged could remain at 50%. This is not recommended as it does not deliver the same level of deterrent for keeping a property empty as the proposals.
Note – Kevin Lancaster re-joined the meeting following the conclusion of discussion and voting on the item.