Empty homes council tax rise unlikely to deter rich owners, say critics

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Empty homes council tax rise unlikely to deter rich owners, say critics” was written by Rupert Neate Wealth correspondent, for The Guardian on Wednesday 22nd November 2017 19.35 UTC

The government’s plan to tackle the housing crisis by increasing council tax on empty homes has been labelled a joke which will have little effect on the oligarchs, foreign royals and multi-millionaire businesses who own expensive vacant properties in the UK. .

Philip Hammond announced on Wednesday that councils would be able to charge 100% extra council tax on properties that have been empty for two or more years. Currently local authorities can charge up to 50%.

“It can’t be right to leave property empty when so many are desperate for a place to live,” the chancellor said in his budget address.

There are 1,652 empty homes in Kensington and Chelsea, the west London borough which includes Grenfell Tower, according to a leaked list. More than 600 of them have been empty for more than two years, and would be included in the higher tax.

Under Hammond’s plan, council tax on homes in the borough’s highest band would increase from £2,124 a year to £4,248. The average selling price there is £2.1m, with semidetached homes fetching an average of £6.2m. Some homes in the borough are valued at as much as £85m.

Paul Sweeney, the Labour MP for Glasgow North East, said Hammond’s plan would not solve the issue generally.

“We need to have a punitive rate above normal council tax to actually incentivise reuse of empty properties,” Sweeney said on Twitter. “What a joke.”

Henry Pryor, a buying agent for luxury property, said the increased tax would have no effect on wealthy buyers. “[It would be] water off an oligarch’s back,” he said. “The impact on the market is unlikely to be more than resentment from natural Conservative voters, some of whom had hoped they would be overlooked this time. Most higher value owners will regard this as a cost of doing business in London in particular and for the chance to own a home in one of the most highly regarded global centres.”

Pyror pointed out that more than 200 wealthy foreigners were already choosing to pay £218,200 a year in tax rather than declare which of London’s £20m-plus mega-mansions they owned.

Helen Williams, the chief executive of the charity Empty Homes, said the council tax increase would be little disincentive for those buying properties as investment. “For a very wealthy buyer spending millions, 100% council tax is not really enough of a disincentive,” she said. It would be more helpful if the government carried out a review into why overseas buyers kept their properties empty, she added.

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s leader, said: “We need a large-scale publicly funded house building programme, not this government’s accounting tricks and empty promises.”

According to Kensington and Chelsea data there are 64 homes listed as vacant in Notting Dale, the ward where Grenfell Tower was built. Of those, six are recorded as having been vacant for more than two years, and the remainder fall into the category of unoccupied and substantially unfurnished.

The ward listed as having the highest number of long-term empty properties is Brompton and Hans Town, which includes Sloane Street and Harrods. The ward has 100 homes listed as empty for more than two years and another 128 recorded as unoccupied and substantially unfurnished.

Analysis by the specialist trade magazine Inside Housing suggested there was a strong correlation between high house prices and the number of empty homes. “This will fuel suggestions that the so-called ‘buy to leave’ phenomenon – whereby investors buy properties to leave them empty – is rife in the borough,” the magazine said.

There are more than 200,000 homes in the UK that have been empty for more than six months, according to the latest government data.

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