Owners of empty properties in South Ribble are set to see their council tax hiked to help cover the cost of plans to ensure low income households no longer have to make a minimum contribution to their own bills.
Currently, all properties in the borough which have stood empty for at least two years attract a premium of 50 percent on top of their normal council tax rate.
South Ribble Borough Council’s cabinet has given the go-ahead for the premium to be doubled to 100 percent for homes which have been empty between two and five years and quadrupled to 200 percent for those empty for up to 10 years, as of next April.
From the following year, a 300 percent premium will be introduced for any property which has lain empty for over a decade.
There are currently 172 long-term empty properties in the borough.
Meanwhile, owners of second homes in the borough will have a 10 percent discount on their bills scrapped, meaning that they have to pay the full amount.
“As an administration we are trying to take those in the most need out of tax and ensure those who can afford it pay and subsidise [them],” council leader Paul Foster said.
The authority recently carried out a public consultation on a proposal for low income households to no longer have to pay a minimum £3.50 weekly council tax charge.
If implemented, that change would cost Lancashire County Council £255,000, because it receives the lion’s share of council tax revenue collected by the district authorities. But the increase in empty homes premiums would put £104,000 back into County Hall’s coffers.
The top tier authority’s response to South Ribble’s proposed changes is expected to be revealed at the borough’s next cabinet meeting.
Cabinet member for social justice, Aniela Bylinski-Gelder said the policy also aimed to “to stop long-term empty properties becoming a blight on our community”. But she admitted that, if it were successful, the additional money generated by the changes could drop off.
Meanwhile, Conservative councillor Michael Green wanted assurance that “extenuating circumstances” would be taken into account.
“There can sometimes be incredibly sad personal reasons why a home is empty – or it could be a simple matter of somebody not being able to sell a property for whatever reason,” he said.
The meeting heard that exemptions to the premium could be applied where there was proof of “genuine” attempts to sell a property and the reasons for being unable to do so within two years – or if the imposition of the premium would “result in hardship [which] a reasonable person would regard… as unfair”.
Exemptions would also apply to properties which are the main or sole residence of member of the armed forces on service away from home.
Forces personnel based elsewhere will also be eligible for a 50 percent discount on a property classed as a second home, as will members of the clergy required to live in a nominated property as part of their work.