CLWYD SOUTH AM KEN SKATES has called for Wrexham Council to have the power to levy higher Council Tax rates on properties left empty for more than a year.
The AM said the Welsh Government’s Housing Bill, which is due to be introduced to the Assembly later in 2013, should include powers for local councils to charge landlords who fail to bring empty properties back into use.
There are currently 285 long-term empty properties across Wrexham County Borough and the Welsh Government estimate there to be more than 22,000 private sector homes in Wales which have been empty for more than six months.
Speaking during First Minister’s Questions on Tuesday, KEN SKATES said:
“Empty homes are a huge wasted resource in our local communities. It is crazy that at a time of national housing shortage, we have 22,000 properties across Wales that are lying empty on a long-term basis.
“One of the solutions we should be considering is giving local authorities a discretionary power to levy a higher rate of council tax on properties that have been empty for more than a year.
“Last year the Welsh Government launched the ‘Houses Into Homes’ Scheme to assist owners of long term empty properties bring them back into use through an interest free loan of up to £25,000. £435,818 of this funding has been made available for use in this way across Wrexham.
“However alongside this carrot, we also need a bigger stick to force the hand of bad landlords who simply refuse to renovate empty properties or bring them back into use. Leaving houses empty over the long-term potentially causes an anti-social behaviour problem for the whole neighbourhood.
“Obviously these new powers would need to be used carefully. For example there should be exemptions where there are good reasons for a property being empty, such as the long-term illness of an owner.
“However allowing local authorities like Wrexham to charge more than the standard rate of Council tax to obstinate landlords will give greater flexibility to local councillors in tackling the empty homes problem.
“Any additional revenue can then be channelled into addressing problems caused by a lack of affordable housing in the Wrexham area.”