Tax rule change sought over empty homes in West Norfolk

GV of  the Borough Council of King's Lynn & West Norfolk, King's Court Hq, Chapel Street King's Lynn
GV of the Borough Council of King's Lynn & West Norfolk, King's Court Hq, Chapel Street King's Lynn

West Norfolk Council officials will lobby the government for changes to tax rules in a bid to bring long-term empty homes back into use more quickly.

The move is part of an updated strategy to tackle the issue, which could also potentially include funding a programme of low-cost renovations.

Although the borough has the second highest proportion of empty homes in Norfolk, the number has fallen from 1026 in 2013 to 864 in January this year.

Lead officer Sheila Farley told the council’s cabinet, which backed the revised strategy at a meeting on Tuesday: “Homes can become empty for a number of reasons and in most cases the property is only empty on a short term basis.

“The property could be awaiting a sale, rental or being renovated prior to occupation.

“These transitional periods are a natural part of the housing market.

“The great majority of these empty homes will be brought back into use in a reasonable time scale without any involvement of the council.

“Some homes may appear to be empty when they are, in fact, second homes or holiday homes or where the owner of the property is in hospital or in a care home.

“It is important the council adopts a strategy which sets out clearly its approach towards empty homes.”

Under current rules, the council charges council tax on empty or unfurnished homes from the second month that they are known to be empty. An extra 50 per cent levy, on top of the bill, is charged on homes that have been empty for more than two years.

But the new strategy says: “The council will also lobby for changes to council tax regulations to enable an additional premium at 12 months.”

The report added: “It is additionally proposed to explore initiatives to bring empty homes into use including consideration of funding a scheme to bring low cost long term empty homes into use to meet housing needs where acquisition and/or remediation costs are not prohibitive.

“Enforcement is considered where appropriate and action will be considered if a property is dangerous or having a significant impact on neighbours or communities.”

Council leader Brian Long said: “Long term empty homes can cause problems for those living near by the property and those living next door. They can also be an eyesore. We would like people to be in the properties.”