To consider the amended proposals for Council Tax Discount and Premia.
Note – a number of Councillors declared a disclosable pecuniary interest in this item. The following Councillors were disconnected from the meeting for the remainder of the discussion and voting on the item:-
· Councillors Ben Berry;
· Roger Bingham;
· Stephen Coleman;
· Brian Cooper;
· Tom Harvey;
· Kevin Lancaster; and
· Doug Rathbone.
Note - Councillors John Holmes and Susanne Long, declared a disclosable pecuniary interest in this item by virtue of the fact that they had been nominated by South Lakeland District Council as Directors to South Lakes Housing, requested to remain in the meeting and Councillor John Holmes requested to speak on the item, after both Councillors would be disconnected from the meeting for the discussion and voting on the item.
Note – As the Chairman, Councillor Stephen Coleman had declared a disclosable pecuniary interest in this item, the Vice-Chair, Councillor Pete McSweeney took over as Chairman 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.
Councillor Jarvis moved the recommendations contained within the report. He was seconded by Councillor Matt Severn
Councillor John Holmes expressed his support for the principle to bringing empty homes back into use, but raised a significant concern with the future regulation changes to Energy Performance Certificates and the impact this would have on Landlords, particularly when the proposed 12-month period was taken into consideration. He proposed that consideration should be given to applications from major developers should be allowed a longer period of time in order to comply with the changes.
In responding to the concern raised by Councillor Holmes, the Deputy Leader and Housing and Innovation Portfolio Holder confirmed that this matter had received a large amount of responses in the consultation. The Portfolio Holder informed Members that he had attended a meeting with Stakeholders, relevant Officers and local MPs to discuss the impact on major developers. He highlighted that the Council had agreed to do further research into a potential procedural recommendation in addition to this report and the potential of allowing major developers an exemption.
Note – at this point in the proceedings Councillors John Holmes and Susanne Long were both disconnected from the meeting, for the reasons described above.
Councillor Matt Severn expressed support for the proposals and the case by case approach for exemptions to the policy, which he felt was fairer and a more suitable method for bringing empty homes back into use.
A vote was taken by roll call and it was
RESOLVED – that the amended proposals outlined in paragraph 3.1. be approved.