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Tough love warning by Fenland Council to tackle empty homes scandal

From 1 April 2025, a 100 per cent premium will be introduced on second homes in Fenland

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Hundreds of people in Fenland who own homes that have been empty for more than a year -until now it has been two years – face paying a Council Tax premium to encourage them to bring them back into use. And those buying a second home in the district face paying more in Council Tax from next year.

Strengthening of its housing policies were announced today by Fenland District Council.

As of 29 February 2024, there were 763 empty domestic properties in Fenland. This included 453 properties empty between six months and two years and 156 empty for over two years.

Since April 2021, properties that have been unoccupied for two years or more have been subject to a one hundred per cent Council Tax premium – meaning owners pay double the usual council tax rate – to discourage them from letting homes sit empty.

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That is about to change.

From 1 April 2024, the application of the premium is being changed. Owners will now be charged a premium on properties left empty for one year or more, rather than two.

From 1 April 2025, a 100 per cent premium will also be introduced on second homes in the district.

“A Council Tax premium charged to owners of long-term empty properties in Fenland is being strengthened to help increase the supply of housing for residents and improve local communities,” said a council spokesperson.

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Since 1 April 2013, billing authorities have been able to charge a premium on a class of property that has been unoccupied and unfurnished for two years or more. The premium was set at up to 50 per cent of the Council Tax on the property.

But from 1 April 2019 the law was changed to allow for a premium to be charged of up to 100 per cent of the Council Tax on the property.

The council says it is not unaware of the issues facing those with an empty home, especially if it is disrepair.

A property in Friday Bridge had been empty for 18 months before being purchased by a new owner. The council's Empty Homes Officer supported the owner with the renovation, which took five months to complete. Brought back into use in May 2023 as a rental property.

A property in Friday Bridge had been empty for 18 months before being purchased by a new owner. The council’s Empty Homes Officer supported the owner with the renovation, which took five months to complete. Brought back into use in May 2023 as a rental property.

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“It can be challenging bringing empty homes back into use, especially if they’re older properties, but we can offer help,” said the spokesperson.

It recently offered as an example a home, built circa 1904, that required total refurbishment; the council worked with the owner and the house is almost ready to go back on the housing market after two years sat empty.

Cllr Samantha Hoy, Fenland District Council’s Cabinet member for housing, said: “The housing crisis has become a significant challenge across UK, affecting communities and individuals alike.

“Limited housing availability, soaring property prices, and escalating rental costs have left many residents struggling to find suitable accommodation.

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“Long-term empty homes represent a significant, untapped resource that can play a crucial role in addressing the housing shortage, which is why we are committed to bringing them back into use.

“The longer properties remain out of use, the more they also become a blight on our communities and become a focus of nuisance and criminal activity.”

She said: “Charging a Council Tax premium encourages owners to bring their much-needed properties back into use, so they are not left empty for years on end.

“The council also collaborates closely with owners, landlords and the local community to identify other properties, and offer a range of support and guidance to give such properties a new lease of life.”

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Since April 2021, the council has suspended the Council Tax premium to support owners in certain cases, such as those who have recently purchased a long-term empty property.

Fenland Council worked with the owner to modernise this home, built circa 1904. It required total refurbishment but is almost ready to go back on the housing market after two years sat empty

Fenland Council worked with the owner to modernise this home, built circa 1904. It required total refurbishment but is almost ready to go back on the housing market after two years sat empty

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The council spokesperson said that from 1 April 2024, following feedback from owners, there will be three set classes of property in which the council can offer to suspend the premium.

Properties recently purchased for renovation.

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A property which is purchased through Land Registry at market value and where the new owners are unable to reside in the property due to its condition.

Where evidence of this is produced by the new owners, the premium will be waived for a maximum of 12 months from the date of purchase before reverting back to the appropriate level of premium prior to the waiver period.

Properties marketed for sale.

Where a property is actively being marketed for sale at market value, the premium will be waived for a maximum of 24 months.

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Inherited properties.

Where a property has been inherited and the new owners are unable to reside in the property.

An ex-rental, three-bedroom terraced house in Wisbech had been empty for nine months before being purchased in January 2023. Fenland District Council's Empty Homes Officer approached the new owners to support them with the renovation of the property. Fully renovated in four months, improving the property's Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) from an E to a C rating. Brought back into use in May 2023 as a rental property.

An ex-rental, three-bedroom terraced house in Wisbech had been empty for nine months before being purchased in January 2023. Fenland District Council’s Empty Homes Officer approached the new owners to support them with the renovation of the property. Fully renovated in four months, improving the property’s Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) from an E to a C rating. Brought back into use in May 2023 as a rental property.

Where evidence of this is produced by the new owners, the premium will be waived for a maximum of 12 months from the date of ownership before reverting back to the appropriate level of premium prior to the waiver period.

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Empty Homes Service

Fenland District Council provides an Empty Homes Service, with an Empty Homes Officer able to provide support and assistance to owners, including free property assessments, support with applications, approvals, lettings, and sale processes.

The spokesperson added: “The council also has a ‘problem property’ working group; a cross-team collaboration that meets to target more difficult empty properties in the district.

“The team explores the best powers and enforcement routes to break the impasse that leads to properties falling into disrepair.”

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If you own an empty property and would like advice and support to bring it back into use, you can:

Contact the council’s empty homes officer Lorraine Moore on 07729 638832 or via email at: lmoore@fenland.gov.uk, or

Visit the council’s Empty Homes advice webpage at: www.fenland.gov.uk/emptyhomes

 Report an empty property

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Is empty property affecting you? The council has a reporting form available for that too. It suggests either contacting Lorraine Moore or using its online reporting form available at: www.fenland.gov.uk/emptyhomes

 

 

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