Campaigners call on Government to end tax breaks on second homes
COUNCIL tax breaks for empty homes are costing Greater Bristol almost £9 million every year, the Post can reveal.
Discounts give to second homes and properties lying vacant suck millions out of the local economy, increasing residents' tax bills.
Ministers say they want to allow councils to abolish the discounts to spend the cash on services, although the power has not yet been handed over.
They claim that ending the discounts would shave £20 off the average household's council tax bill.
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Currently the owners of properties that are empty are entitled to a range of tax reliefs. Councils are forced to offer second home-owners at least 10 per cent off their bills, while other breaks apply to homes that are vacant for other reasons.
Campaigners say it is wrong for taxpayers to be subsidising wealthy homeowners and landlords of empty buildings at a time of service cuts and housing shortages.
The impact of the discounts on the local economy is revealed by figures published in the House of Commons Library.
Council services in Bristol would be boosted by £3.8 million if all discounts were ended. This figure includes a £301,000 subsidy currently being given to second home-owners, while the rest relates to homes that are long-term unoccupied, being repaired or that have been repossessed.
In North Somerset, the cost of the discount is £1.6 million, which mostly related to unfurnished properties lying empty for more than six months.
Second homes in Bath and North Somerset were subsidised to the tune of £106,000 out of total tax breaks of £1.5 million, while South Gloucestershire was losing out on receipts of £1.8 million.
Campbell Robb, chief executive of the homeless charity Shelter, said: "The council tax discount is effectively a tax break for people with second homes which often lie empty for large parts of the year. Enabling councils to respond to local housing pressures and charge the full rate of council tax, or higher, would mean they could raise vital revenue that could be used to deliver affordable housing for local people."
He said government cuts to homebuilding budgets meant an even greater squeeze on current housing stock. Last Autumn the government launched a consultation into allowing councils to scrap the discounts altogether. They also claim that bonus payments given to councils that bring empty properties back into use will alleviate the "scandal" of homes lying vacant.
A spokesman for the Department of Communities and Local Government, which published the figures in response to a question from Labour's communities spokesman Hilary Benn, said: "Removing such special tax relief and treating them like any other home could help reduce overall council tax bills by £20 a year on an average Band D bill. The consultation has now closed and we are currently considering the responses."