Local authority criticised over council tax premium plans
Anthony Lewis, local democracy reporter
Labour politicians in Merthyr Tydfil have labelled the independent run council’s plans to charge higher council tax on long term empty properties as “all stick and no carrot.”
The council is consulting on plans to charge a council tax premium on long term empty properties and second homes in Merthyr Tydfil.
The empty property proposal would mean that a property that has remained unoccupied and largely unfurnished for a continuous period of at least one year may be liable for a premium charge. This could be up to 300% from April 1, 2023 on top of the standard rate of council tax.
The council says that there are 450 homes in the county borough that have been empty for more than six months.
But the local Labour MP and opposition Labour councillors say they have uncovered details that the independent-run council has failed to sign-up to the Welsh Government’s ‘Empty Homes Grant’ scheme which would make grants of up to £25,000 available to help people renovate empty properties to make them safe to live in and improve their energy efficiency.
Gerald Jones who is the Labour MP for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney said: “Long-term empty properties not only blight our communities, but they add to Merthyr Tydfil’s already crippling housing crisis.
“Around 2,000 people are currently waiting for housing in the county borough because the council’s Independent-run administration has failed to get to grips with the issue.
“The Welsh Labour Government’s Empty Homes Grant fund offers financial help for people to turn empty properties into homes. But, unbelievably, the Independent-led council has failed to sign-up.
Their approach is all stick and no carrot.
“Simply sticking people with a 300% increase on their council tax is wrongheaded, the council should immediately register for the ‘Empty Homes Grant’ scheme and allow residents to apply.”
Deputy leader of Merthyr Tydfil Council’s opposition Labour group and shadow cabinet member for housing, Councillor Clive Jones, added: “Returning hundreds of empty homes back into use in Merthyr Tydfil is both cheaper and faster than building new homes.
“It is unfortunate for residents that the Independent-run council has not even registered to participate in the Welsh Government’s Empty Homes Grant scheme, while almost every other council across Wales has already done so.”
Councillor Anna Williams-Price, a Labour member of the council’s housing scrutiny committee, added: “The council’s housing services have gone from crisis to crisis due to the lack of political leadership from the Independent-run cabinet.
“The reality is that around 2,000 people in our borough are waiting for a home of their own. The council are in no position to be refusing help. They should be taking every offer of support available.”
But the council said that it is fully committed to bringing back as many properties as possible into use and although empty properties are a priority the greatest concern is the number of homeless individuals and families which it said the grant is unlikely to have a significant impact on.
But the council said it will be participating in the grant scheme despite its limitation in meeting Merthyr Tydfil’s housing needs.
The council said: “Welsh Government has amended the legislation to allow local authorities within Wales to charge a Premium of up to 300% on top of the standard council tax charge.
“The council is currently consulting with residents on if a premium should be charged on long-term empty properties and second homes, and if so, at what rate.
A report will be taken to Full Council on 8th March 2023 for approval.
Limited take up
“The local authority has previously participated in the Valleys Task Force pilot scheme to deliver Empty Property Grants, targeting owner/occupiers where properties have been vacant for more than six months.
The Council delivered the programme over a two-year period but there was limited take up of the grant.
“The council is committed to bringing back as many empty properties as possible in the County Borough. Every year our Environmental Health service monitors the situation and offers help and support to private owners.
“Although empty properties are a priority the greatest housing concern in Merthyr Tydfil relates to the number of homeless individuals and families that the Council has a statutory duty to help. Unfortunately, the Empty Property Grant is unlikely to have significant impact on this issue – or benefit those currently on the housing waiting list for social housing – as the terms of the grant require the owner of the property to live there themselves for a five-year period.
“Despite this limitation in the grant meeting our immediate housing needs, due to the current consultation to charge a premium on long-term empty properties, the Council will be participating in the grant scheme. This will give direct support and financial incentive for owners of empty properties to make improvements to enable them to take up residence.”
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.