Westminster Labour have long advocated that property owners who leave homes empty should be charged an ‘Empty Property Council Tax Premium’. This would help raise money for Council finances and incentivise owners to make their homes available, helping alleviate pressures on the housing market. For example, in its 2018 manifesto, Labour set out that the party would “fully use the Empty Property Premium on Council Tax and campaign for its level to be increased.”
Conservatives at Westminster have historically opposed the Empty Property Premium. In December 2012, Conservative Deputy Leader Melvyn Caplan, the then cabinet member for Finance, said: “We think that charging more than 100 per cent is penalising people, given that council tax is meant to be a charge for services you receive. Plus, you could waste a fortune trying to find out if properties are empty or not.”
In July 2014, Councillor Daniel Astaire, the then Conservative cabinet member for Housing, said: “We don’t think the Empty Homes Premium works. Privately owned property is owned for a number of reasons by a number of people and it’s not our part to interfere. The way to build homes is not to tax existing homes and stop people investing and buying in our city. We are a low-tax borough, we are proud of being a low-tax borough and we don’t think this [the premium] will make any meaningful difference in the city.”
However, following continued pressure from Labour, the Council agreed to raise the Empty Property Premium from 50% to 100% in 2019. And most recently, in mid-December this year, Conservatives have gone further in adopting Labour’s ideas. The Cabinet took the decision that landlords with homes that have been empty for five to ten years will now pay 200 per cent more on council tax, whilst those that has left their properties empty for more than 10 years will paid 300 per cent more.
Labour’s David Boothroyd, Shadow Cabinet Member for Finance, said: “We welcome this decision by Conservatives to further incorporate Westminster Labour manifesto pledges into Council policy. Of course, the policy should have been introduced much earlier. But this is a step in the right direction, and shows how Labour continues to deliver for Westminster’s communities despite being in opposition.”
Labour’s Pancho Lewis, Shadow Cabinet Member for Environment, said: “The council needs to use some of the proceeds of the raised premium to accurately assess the extent of the problem.”