Language campaigners have criticised comments made by the Welsh Government’s Housing Minister on the issue of second homes.
Cymdeithas yr Iaith were responding to what Julie James has to say in the Senedd yesterday (February 3) after being challenged by Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Minister for Housing, Delyth Jewell, on what has been called a “loophole”.
The Welsh Government has been asked to close the “legal loophole”, which it is claimed, enables second home owners to avoid paying domestic taxes and the council tax premium.
The Minister told the Senedd “I’m not sure I agree it’s a loophole”, before adding that the Government is “looking to see what can be done” in order to avoid any “unintended consequences on the local housing market”.
A spokesperson on behalf of Cymdeithas yr Iaith’s ‘Nid yw Cymru ar werth’ (‘Wales is not for sale’) campaign, Osian Jones, said: “While the Minister seemed relatively sympathetic, the truth of the matter is that kind words don’t buy a house.
“Julie James is a Minister in government, and in this case the Welsh Government has the necessary powers to act now in the interests of our communities, but for some reason it is refusing to use these powers.
“Cymdeithas yr Iaith have consistently called for the Government to introduce a package of measures in order to rectify the crisis, including a giving Local Authorities powers that they need to tackle the housing crisis.
“What we need from the Government is action, not empty words – especially given the fact that this crisis has existed for decades.
“The Minister’s attempt to downplay the crisis, by saying that she wouldn’t use the word ‘loophole’ to describe the legal gap that exists that enables owners of second homes to avoid paying the council tax premium, suggests that the Government has no real understanding of the reality of the crisis that affects so many of our communities, in all corners of the country.”
“The Senedd’s Petitions Committee will discuss our ‘Wales is not for sale’ petition on the 9th of February; we call on the committee to vote in favour of putting the issue in the hands of the full Senedd, as soon as possible.
“The Welsh Government needs to understand that the housing crisis affects the whole of Wales and it needs to proactively work for the benefit of communities, not capitalism.”
‘Not sure I agree’
In response to being questioned on the issue in the Senedd by Delyth Jewell MS, Julie James MS, Minister for Housing and Local Government, said: “The loophole, as you call it—I’m not sure I agree it’s a loophole, but I understand the issue that you’re raising.
“This is for people who rent out a second property in their ownership for a particular number of days a year, having advertised it for another number.
“We are looking very carefully to see whether that number of days—70 and 140 at the moment—should be extended to be a much longer period; in other words, you have to use the house as a holiday house for a lot longer in order to be able to flip to commercial rates.
“And we’re also looking to see what can be done about the access to small business rate relief by people who do that, because that’s another issue.
“I just think it is worth emphasising, though, because it’s a common misapprehension—I’m not saying you have it, Delyth; I know you haven’t—that councils do not lose out themselves in their funding when people go to business rates and claim small business rate relief, because the Welsh Government makes up the shortfall in that funding to the local authority, although I do understand that there’s an equity issue for local people about who is paying the council tax.
“So, I understand that, but I did want to make it clear that the local authority itself is not losing out on that.
“So, we are looking at a range of pieces of evidence to see where that would best be placed, and what arrangements people who do flip to business rates have to do in order to be a business in order to do that.
“You’ll know yourself that there’s real complexity about what we call ‘second homes’ and who occupies them.”