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Council tax premium reduces number of empty homes in Monmouthshire

THE NUMBER of empty homes in Monmouthshire has reduced since it was agreed to charge a council tax premium. 

County councillors agreed last year to charge double council tax on houses that have been empty for 12 months or more – that premium increases to 200 per cent for a second year a home is unused and those empty for three years or more will have to pay a 300 per cent premium. 

The first council tax bills with double charges for empty homes were sent out this month, as the council had agreed to wait a year before charging the premium. Figures presented to a scrutiny committee show the number of empty homes has already dropped. 

Ian Bakewell, Monmouthshire County Council’s housing manager, said according to council tax records there were 541 empty homes in April 2023 but that included some that were empty for between six and 12 months. 

That figure has now reduced to 447 and of those 366 are classed as long term having been empty for 12 months or more. 

“Empty homes generally sat with one person and we consequently did not give it enough staff resource, ” said Mr Bakewell of the department’s response to the premium that is intended to encourage owners to bring homes back into use.

“The restructure resulted in us putting two members of staff towards it who give it a more weekly approach rather than dipping in and out and being a victim to other priorities.” 

The two staff members make contact with owners and aim to find out why homes are being unused as well as offer advice on grants and loans available to bring them into use. 

“Of those 366 we are taking the next steps of engaging with owners including possible ways of putting a little more pressure in terms of those properties to try and encourage them not to be left empty and get them to consider whether there are solutions they will benefit from, not just Monmouthshire.” 

Enforcement, which could also involve the environmental health and planning departments, hasn’t yet started but will be discussed and a report said it is an option for four empty properties “in very poor condition” that are causing “a detrimental environmental impact”. 

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However Mr Bakewell said the council intends providing “positive support” and has around £1m available, made up of a grant from the Welsh Government and a loan it must pay back to Cardiff, to fund improvements. 

The council can also lease homes to use for temporary accommodation for the 263 homeless households in Monmouthshire, or refer owners to a similar Welsh Government scheme, while housing associations, or in “exceptional circumstances” the council, could also consider renting or buying the properties to provide a home to the 3,723 households on the housing waiting list. 

Interest free loans to bring a house back into use are only available to owners agree to live in them for the following five years which was described as “unfortunate” as Mr Bakewell said owners usually already have somewhere to live. 

The committee said it wanted the council to promote the support available to town and community councils and engage with estates that might also have empty homes that aren’t individually registered for council tax. 

It agreed it supports the approach of engaging with owners but using enforcement if necessary.