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