There are nearly 650 long-term empty homes in the Derbyshire Dales, a situation which has been branded as a “blatant tragedy” and an “absolute disgrace” by councillors.
The comments were made at a meeting of Derbyshire Dales District Council’s governance and resources committee on Thursday night.
Committee members voted unanimously to approve plans to charge the owners of homes which have been empty for two or more years double in council tax.
This was seen as a way to bring in much-needed cash for the council – potentially £131,345 per year extra – penalise the relevant owners; and free up more houses for those looking to jump onto the housing market.
Council leader, Conservative councillor Lewis Rose, said: “It is a blatant tragedy if we have these homes empty for three years and have no-one in them.
“This is a good lever to have available to us, and we all know the amount of empty houses that there are in our district.
“We will have to know how the county council will make use of this revenue.
“I am keen to see any extra revenue raised from this to be used for the benefit of Derbyshire Dales residents.
“The purpose of this extra levy would be to get homes occupied, we are not money-grabbing.
“Three years is a long time, it is not as if we are asking for extra money from these home-owners after three months.”
Independent councillor, Colin Swindell, said there is an infamous house in his ward, Winster and South Darley, which has been empty for more than 30 years.
He said: “The only people that are going to say no to this proposal are those who don’t want their empty homes filled.
“And I’m not scared to say it but this is an easy way for us to make some money.
“We were talking last week about parking charges as a way to make money, and empty homes is one of the things we really should be looking at instead.
“It is an excellent way to pull revenue. If these people are going to sit on houses than charge them for it.”
Meanwhile, Councillor Mike Ratcliffe, Labour, said that sensible exemptions would be needed if the scheme is pushed forward.
He said: “It is absolutely disgraceful when so many young people and families are searching for a property and it is only right and proper that we introduce these charges and it is about time that we do so.”
Tim Braund, head of regulatory services at the authority, said that central government is moving towards eventually allowing councils to introduce a 300 per cent levy on homes which have been empty for two-to-five years and 400 per cent for those which have been vacant for ten years or more.
In 2013, central government gave local authorities the power to charge a 50 per cent “premium” on empty homes.
There is currently a fresh bill of legislation going through government which would see this increased to 100 per cent extra, in a bid to free-up the 200,000 empty homes in England.
This was outlined in 2017 and is expected to come into law over the course of the next year and allow councils to levy the higher premium from April 2019.
The council will now launch a consultation on the proposal to introduce the 100 per cent levy, and if the survey shows a majority in favour, it would be brought in once the legislation is approved by central government.
When an owner persistently leaves a property empty, if it is in a poor condition or in an area of high housing need, the district council may take out a compulsory purchase order, if the owner has resisted all voluntary attempts to bring the property back into use.
It can also take out an empty dwelling management order.
This allows councils to take over the management of residential properties, where an owner of an empty property has turned down offers of help to bring the property back into use, and can offer no good reason why the property should remain empty.