Why we should tax empty properties

Abandoned houseIf you've ever had a property on your street that has been left empty for any period of time you will know that it quickly becomes a magnet for unsavoury behaviour.As of November last year, 720,000 homes stood empty in England and of them 279,000 were classed as long-term empty – which means they have been unoccupied for more than six months.

In Scotland, 25,000 homes lie empty but Scottish councils will be hoping to reduce that figure after new legislation was passed north of the border, which will allow them to charge extra council tax to homes that have been left empty for more than a year.

The payment of council tax for empty properties has been a sticky issue across the UK. Previously empty homes were exempt from the tax but councils were then given the power to give council tax discounts at their own discretion. The new Unoccupied Properties Bill in Scotland goes a step further and allows councils to charge more.

But is it right to tax empty properties? Those who have inherited properties they cannot sell and are finding a financial burden would say it is unfair to tax these properties at all. As would those landlords who are finding it difficult to find tenants.

However, there are two sides to every argument: currently there are 48,510 households classified as homeless in England, which seems criminal when we have 279,000 properties sitting empty.

The Scottish government is hoping that the increased council tax will force people to bring unused properties back into use and it seems like a sensible idea; who can argue against a plan to provide homes when so many people need them.

Britain is a crowded place but it needn't be if all properties are utilised.

The coalition has already got a scheme in place to provide grants to those that wish to buy and renovate empty homes but there have been complaints that the grants offered are not large enough to help cover the huge costs of renovation.

The 'carrot approach' of offering grants doesn't seem to be a solution to getting empty properties back on the market so maybe England needs a 'stick approach' like Scotland. Instead of incentivising people to renovate derelict houses, punish those that leave properties in a state of disrepair and abandonment.

It may seem harsh to the owners of those properties but there are lots of homeless people that are leading a tough life.

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