East Ayrshire to adopt Council Tax changes to reduce building neglect

Empty and derelict buildings are a problem in villages, towns and cities throughout the country, blighting the appearance of our streets and causing problems for neighbours. But it’s hoped that this will soon start to change in East Ayrshire, with the introduction of new rules which will make it more expensive for owners to leave their properties empty.

Traditionally, properties which are unoccupied and unfurnished for up to 6 months are exempt from Council Tax. Thereafter the owner could claim a 50% discount for a further 6 months. After 12 months, the Council awarded the maximum permitted discount of 10%.

But following a decision by East Ayrshire Council’s Cabinet, from October, owners who leave their properties empty for more than a year without using them as a second home, renovating or marketing them will now face double council tax charges instead of discounts, in line with Scottish Government guidelines issued in 2013 which give Councils the power to decide discount levels and charges.

Councillor Elena Whitham, Cabinet Member for Housing and Communities explained: “Our latest available figures, from September 2017, show that East Ayrshire had 648 properties which had been left empty and unoccupied for more than 12 months. Many of these are older buildings of architectural significance, while others could be providing much needed housing if they were available on the market.

“While our Conservation Area Regeneration Schemes (CARS), Townscape Heritage Initiatives, and Town Centre Vacant and Derelict Building grants schemes have been very successful in bringing many of our older, town centre buildings back in to use with the co-operation of their owners and financial help from ourselves and the Heritage Lottery Fund, Scottish Government and Historic Environment Scotland, we still have issues with buildings lying empty and deteriorating and where their owners have no plans to renovate or sell.

Empty buildings are a costly blight on our neighbourhoods, they can be a focus for anti-social behaviour and neglect can cause problems for surrounding properties. Using our Council tax powers, removing discounts for those who are failing to occupy, renovate or sell their properties after an extended period, we hope to give owners the incentive to either engage with restoration projects or market them so that someone else can put them to good use.

“Our teams are already working hard to engage with private sector owners, provide funding, assistance and incentives to fix the problems. These changes will help us to break the deadlock with those who don’t currently engage with us but are apparently happy to sit on unused and deteriorating premises without long term plans for them.

“Of course our criteria for charging increased Council Tax will take into account exceptional circumstances. We won’t be penalising those who are in long term care, hospital or are actively pursuing sale or repair. The extra revenue we will generate through this change will enable us to further invest in the regeneration of our communities for the benefit of all while hopefully producing a measurable downturn in the number of neglected buildings.”

The changes will come into force from October 1 2018.

Read the Cabinet minute
Read the Scottish Govt guidance 2013

The new rules for Council Tax on East Ayrshire vacant properties:

  • The current 10% discount awarded to properties that remain empty after 12 months will be removed from October 1 2018 and in its place 100% additional Council Tax will be applied
  • Where the property is a second home no levy will be applied for any period however the current 10% discount will be removed
  • Where the empty property is being actively marketed for sale the 10% discount will be removed after 12 months and 100% additional Council Tax will apply after the end of 24 months
  • Where the property is undergoing structural repair the 10% discount will be removed after the end of the second year. It is proposed that some further discretion is included to enable owners time to bring their property back into use or alternatively enable them to seek to sell or let the property prior to the implementation of the additional charge.
  • The following discretionary criteria can be approved for a time limited period:
    •  If the householder has inherited the property within the last 3 months and is still empty then a maximum further period of 6 months will be granted from 1 October 2018 where no levy will be applied, although the discount will be removed
    • Where a property has been long term empty (i.e. over 12 months) and is then subsequently sold, the new owner will be exempt from the levy for a period of 3 months, however no discount will be awarded
    • Where an owner is having difficulty selling or letting a property and the two year period has passed, then further consideration will be given to an additional short term period up to a maximum of six months without a levy being charged by the Revenues and Benefits Manager where the owner has been actively engaging with the Council’s Empty Homes Officer to sell or let the property. Engagement must have occurred at least six months prior to the conclusion of the original exemption and the home owner must provide evidence that they have taken positive steps to re-occupy their property – This discretion is conditional on the home being genuinely marketed for sale or let at a realistic market price. In determining whether the home is genuinely marketed for sale or let local authorities can have regard to any unduly restrictive conditions being attached to the sale or let as well as the sales price/ rent level. In coming to their decision on whether or not the property is being genuinely marketed for sale or let, local authorities can request and take into account evidence including the home report and the valuation.