Starting from 1 April 2013, some local authorities are planning to raise the council tax on empty homes, which will affect beneficiaries who are struggling to sell the properties of their late relatives.
The set of changes to the current council tax discounts and exemptions, brought in under the Local Government Finance Act 2012, are aimed at bringing empty dwellings back into use quickly, to help address the housing shortage. The changes will affect owners of empty properties and owners of second homes (where no one lives or the owner has a main property elsewhere). Under the new rules, local authorities can charge the full council tax on second homes. In some areas, the periods during which empty properties and properties in need of or undergoing major repairs are exempt from payments will be reduced, after which 50% of the council tax will be charged for a time and then the full tax will be payable. Properties that have been empty for more than two years will be charged a premium of 50% so owners will have to pay 150% of the council tax.
The changes will adversely affect people who are facing difficulties in selling the empty homes of their parents or relatives who have passed away.
John Bottomley, 59, of Chester, is in exactly this situation, the Chester Chronicle reported. He has been trying to sell his mother's retirement apartment in Handbridge since she passed away in September 2009 and now he faces a 100% rise in the annual £862 council tax bill. The son, who is joint Executor of his mum's estate, currently receives a 25% discount on his mother's council tax bill. However, he has been told by the local council that the discount will be scrapped and he will be charged the full council tax plus a new premium of 50%.
Mr Bottomley, who is neither a landlord, nor negligent or otherwise, and who has his own council tax bill to pay, views the tax hike as a penalty for something he is not guilty of. He is also not prepared to sell the property at a rock-bottom price as he still has to cover the care home fees owed to the council for the care provided to his mother. While he says his mother had received excellent care, he also believes that the services and benefits the property receives from Chester council are insignificant at best and the new charge is "outrageous."