‘Don’t double council tax on my second home’ says Swansea University Chancellor

Picture by Numero007 (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Richard Youle, local democracy reporter

The Chancellor of Swansea University has urged council chiefs to delay doubling the council tax on her second home.

Dame Jean Thomas argued that it had been virtually impossible to renovate or visit her property since the Covid-19 pandemic hit last March.

The council is due to implement a 100 per cent council tax premium on second homes and on long-term empty properties from April 1.

This is expected to affect 1,100 second homes and just over 2,300 long-term empty homes, and raise nearly £3 million for the authority every year.

Jean Thomas was born and brought up in Swansea and is a Swansea University graduate. She lives in Cambridge but inherited a bungalow in Treboeth from her late mother.

“The proposed council tax premium makes the cost of keeping this home unsustainable,” she said.

Professor Thomas said she had decided “very reluctantly” to sell the bungalow, which she described as habitable but not sell-able.

She said the getting renovation work carried out was “impossible” because she was unable to visit from Cambridge due to Covid travel restrictions.

She urged leaders to consider delaying the council tax premium for six or “ideally” 12 months.

‘Further advice’ 

Council leader Rob Stewart said he would look at her case to see if further advice could be given, but pointed out that essential work on houses could go ahead during the pandemic, and that the premium could potentially be deferred “in exceptional circumstances”.

The point of the premium, he said, was to raise money to increase the housing supply in Swansea by bringing empty homes back into use and building new council ones. He said the council has more than 4,000 people on its housing waiting list.

Professor Thomas said she needed to be at the bungalow for renovation work because it contained family possessions, adding that she didn’t have relatives who lived in Swansea.

The council’s chief finance officer Ben Smith said the council tax base, which is used to determine the level of council tax, was already “set in stone” for 2021-22.

Another member of the public, Steve Green, said he wasn’t allowed to travel to his holiday home in Gower under the current restrictions.

Mr Green said doubling the council tax to more than £4,000 in these circumstances “seems morally wrong”.

He added: “I’m not arguing about the premium – it’s the timing of the introduction.

“Nothing is set in stone at the moment. I think the council should be using its flexibility.”

‘Business rates’

Cllr Stewart said if the property was a holiday let, Mr Green may want to consider registering it for business rates instead of council tax.

The Swansea Labour leader also said that increasing the housing supply was particularly relevant in Gower because people who grew up there were having to move away because of high property prices.

Mr Green reiterated it was the timing that bothered him.

“I think it’s fair to delay it,” he said.

Most second homes in Swansea are in Gower, Swansea West and the marina.

Several other authorities in Wales charge second homeowners extra council tax.

Swansea Council approved the doubling of council tax on second homes over a year ago, but only to come into force from April 1 this year.

It followed a public consultation on the proposal, in which 70% of respondents opposed any second home premium.

One objector said: “If our taxes are doubled we will simply sell and spend our vacation time elsewhere and so local businesses will suffer.”

But another respondent, from Port Eynon, Gower, said: “Every house that comes up for sale is bought as a holiday home or rental. There are now no young people left in the village.”

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