Camden plan for tax on empty and second homes to end perks for private landlords

Higher council tax rates on empty homes in Camden may be introduced to bring some of the borough’s one in 16 vacant properties back into use and raise �2million.

The council is considering taking tough action on those who leave property sitting empty for more than two years, charging owners 150 per cent council tax.

Second home owners would also lose out on the 10 per cent council tax discount they currently enjoy and private landlords would no longer be entitled to a six-month council tax break on empty properties.

The proposals, seen by the Ham&High and thought to be some of the first of their kind in London, are still at draft stage and are not due to be considered by Camden’s cabinet until December.

If agreed, they could raise �2million to swell the council’s depleting coffers.

Cllr Theo Blackwell, cabinet member for finance, said: “There’s a fairness point – these properties are just lying fallow in many areas of the borough, mainly through private investors, and I think the ability of the council to recoup these costs and put them towards plugging the massive hole in our social services bill, for example, would be a good thing to do.”

He added: “Ultimately these are seen as investments by people who have massive property portfolios, and we do try our best to get people to put them into productive use. But we don’t have any powers to do so.

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“A lever that we do have is to remove a discount which seems increasingly absurb for these people on the taxes and their property.

The report says one in 16 of Camden’s 103,600 residential properties are not lived in on a full-time basis. Some 6,472 homes could face increased council tax bills if the proposals go ahead – including 662 in Hampstead and Highgate.

Reuben Miller, branch manager of Alexanders property consultants in West End Lane, West Hampstead, welcomed the idea and said: “It’s sickening if property is being left empty for that amount of time.

“Someone who can afford to leave their property empty for two years – will it really hurt? It’s certainly likely to stimulate people to make a choice. It should be positive and bring more houses to the market, but I don’t think it will be exclusively lets.”

Others said a broad brush approach might unfairly penalise some, such as elderly people living in care homes who still own property.

Chris Underhill, managing director of Prickett & Ellis Underhill estate agents in Highgate High Street, said: “The second homes issue is a tricky one because there’s an argument that if you can afford a second home in the borough, you’ve got to be pretty affluent so you should be able to pay your way.

“But it can’t be a one-way street. Are Camden going to be charging themselves for their own empty property? I’d like to see the revenue ring-fenced to bring their housing stock back into use.”

Private landlords, however, were less welcoming of the measures.

Julie Kelly, of Wellmanage Ltd property managers, which oversees property for one landlord in Camden, said: “It just seems like another way of extorting money out of private landlords. I don’t really know what they’re trying to achieve with it. I don’t think it’s very fair.”

The proposals have been developed in anticipation of the Local Government Finance Act 2012. If passed by Parliament, the act will give local authorities discretion to increase council tax on seond and empty homes.