Council Tax Levy Discretion

Hi,

This is a Council Tax levy question, particularly aimed at two-tier authorities, but I am happy to open it up to anyone that feels that they can provide a definitive answer.

We are a district local authority that has a policy in place to apply the levy charge automatically when a property hits the two-year empty mark. I am looking to vary the policy by adding in an element of discretion where owners are clearly engaging and actively working to bring their property back in to use. A colleague in Council Tax feels that to do so will leave us indebted to the other beneficiaries of our Council Tax. His logic is that we currently receive a set amount in the pound from our collections with the vast majority going to the County Council and to the police. If we then choose not to apply the levy, in lieu of owners completing their long-term empty properties, we would be expected to foot the bill for our partners lost income. I can see the logic were we to suspend existing levies but I’m struggling to see how this should be so if we simply delay applying the levy on properties that are about to hit the two-year mark.

What do members think and are there any examples out there of authorities adopting a flexible approach to their levy charge?

Kind regards

Will Abë

Empty Homes Manager North Norfolk District Council

Forums: 
Council tax - discounts, access to info etc

Hi Will,

At Exeter we do make exceptions to the EH Premium when the owners are actively marketing for letting or sale. This is based on the government guidance paper, which states two things which I think are relevant:

“The government’s intention behind the decision to provide billing authorities with the power to charge a premium was not to penalise owners of property that is genuinely on the housing market for sale or rent.”

“Billing authorities are free to make their own decisions when administering the premium.”

Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/194389/Empty_home_premium_guidance_-_May.pdf

At Exeter we have allowed owners who are desperate to sell or let, but are struggling to do so, to be exempt from the premium. They have engaged fully with the Empty Homes team and taken all offers of advice and assistance from us. Therefore, in partnership with Council Tax, it seemed appropriate to remove the premium in these cases. These are often cases where the property is very difficult to sell or let due to unusual factors (e.g. retirement properties, of which there are many in Exeter, with high service charges).

As per the argument that you are footing a bill for lost income by removing the premium, this doesn’t make sense to me. The removal of a premium (whether because of an exemption or due to the property being returned to use) should not be seen as a negative, else we’d all be working hard to keep as many properties as possible on the 2+ years lists! As the premium is an additional percnetage added to the existing CT liability, I can’t see how it could be relied upon by local services, as it is flexible and could end at any point should the property be returned to use.

While the money gained from the premium is surely of use to local services, this is not the main purpose of the levy. I don’t think the financial benefits of the levy should be used to justify applying it in cases where it clearly has not been intended to be used. As per the guidance above, it is not designed to penalise owners who are legitimately trying to bring their properties back into use. However, as the guidance also states, it is for the billing authority to decide how it wants to administer the premium.

That’s our stance anyway. Hope this is helpful,

Rosie Harris, Exeter City Council

Thanks Rosie,

That is my view exactly. It was the way I worked in my previous authority, but that was a unitary so I wanted to see if any two-tier authorities have come across similar arguments

Thanks again,

Will