Further measures considered to tackle empty properties
RCT empty property rates amongst highest in Britain
Councillors will consider removing the Council Tax discount currently applied to empty properties in the Borough as a further measure to tackle the number of vacant premises in RCT.
If this proposal is approved, the income generated will be re-invested directly into bringing the empty properties back into use. Since 2016, the Council has invested over £3M into a range of measures aimed at tackling this issue.
Rhondda Cynon Taf is one of eleven Councils in Wales who currently apply a 50% discount to vacant or empty properties.
County Borough Councillor Robert Bevan, Cabinet Member for Enterprise, Development & Housing said: “Empty properties impact upon many communities across the length and breadth of Rhondda Cynon Taf.
“The Council has recognised the importance of tackling the issue of empty properties and continues to invest in this area. A number of initiatives have been supported, including an interest-free loan scheme where the Council has supported 53 loans to bring empty properties back into use, and, more recently in 2016, the Council also introduced an innovative empty property grant to support owner occupiers in bringing vacant properties back into use.
"So far, 118 applications have been approved and 44 homes have already been brought back into use through these grants, representing a total investment of more than £3M committed to support this issue.
“Through a range of interventions including advice and support, enforcement action, the provision of empty property loans and grants, and two dedicated officers to tackle this matter, a total of 577 empty properties were brought back into use in Rhondda Cynon Taf between 2012/13 and 2016/17.”
County Borough Councillor Mark Norris, Cabinet Member for Corporate Services added: “Despite significant support provided by the Council to assist owners of empty properties, or the potential purchases of such houses to bring these dwellings back into use, this issue continues to impact upon our communities and residents. This issue is one which persists in many other Welsh authorities with similar market circumstances across the South Wales Valleys.
“The aim of this change to the current discount applied to empty properties is to encourage owners to take advantage of the support which is available to them.
“Significant focus has been given by Councillors to tackling this matter, including Scrutiny reviewing how best the Council could address this issue, which included proposing the removal of the discount as part of their recommendations to tackle this. At the time of this review, this measure was not taken forward alongside the other proactive actions we took, as we rightly wanted to see the impact that funding support for owners of vacant properties could deliver in the first instance.
“Bringing these properties back into use can have a positive impact upon the community, and in turn it can also contribute to regeneration and the wider availability of housing.
“It is proposed that the additional income this change in policy could deliver would be directly invested back into bringing empty properties back into use.”
At a meeting of Full Council, due to held next week (Wednesday, January 17, 2018), it is proposed that the Council use its discretionary powers and that the current policy of giving a 50% Council Tax discount on long-term empty properties be removed in order to discourage property owners allowing empty properties to remain empty for long periods and falling into disrepair.
Empty properties which are unoccupied and unfurnished are initially exempt from Council Tax for up to six months. A property is considered to be ‘long-term empty’ if it has been unoccupied and unfurnished for more than six months and does not qualify for another class of exemption from Council Tax.
In 2004, the Local Government Act (2003) gave Councils new discretionary powers to reduce or remove the 50% Council Tax discount awarded in respect of long-term empty properties. The overall number of properties classified as ‘long-term empty’ within Rhondda Cynon Taf has remained relatively constant over the past 10 years with the number as at December 31, 2017, being 2,600.
Since 2004, across Wales, a number of councils have used their discretionary powers to remove the discount entirely, and Rhondda Cynon Taf Council is currently one of 11 councils that still apply the 50% reduction in the level of Council Tax charged for long-term empty dwellings.
Sixty percent of the empty properties in Rhondda Cynon Taf have been empty for between 1 and 4 years, and a further 24% for 5 years or more. These can have a detrimental effect on other properties in their vicinity, in terms of both market value and quality of life, and can also encourage anti-social behaviour such as vandalism, littering, squatting and crime.
The report estimates that by removing the 50% discount, an additional £1.5M in Council Tax would be raised in 2018/19. It is proposed that this additional income generated is ring-fenced to support the delivery of the Council’s ambition to bring empty properties back into use and revitalise our communities and town centres. Accordingly, the additional resources generated during 2018/19 would be added to the Council’s Empty Property Grant Scheme, as initially established by Cabinet on April 19, 2016.
Full details of the report to be considered by Council next week can be found at: https://www.rctcbc.gov.uk/EN/Council/CouncillorsCommitteesandMeetings/Committees/Council.aspx.