OWNERS of second homes and long-term empty properties in Pembrokeshire could soon pay a 200 per cent council tax premium after a call to increase the rate was backed by senior councillors.
New local tax rules introduced by Welsh Government earlier this year saw local authorities being able to set and collect council tax premiums on second homes and long-term empty properties at up to 300 per cent.
Pembrokeshire is currently operating a 100 per cent council tax premium for second homes, having previously introduced a 50 per cent council tax premium on second homes in 2017.
A premium for long term empty properties in the county was introduced in 2019 for properties that have been empty for three years or more.
A public consultation on any potential premium changes, ranging from 0 to 300 per cent, was launched by Pembrokeshire County Council earlier this year.
Of those respondents that did not have a second/holiday home or empty property, 36 per cent wanted a reduction, 21 per cent favoured no change, and 38 per cent favoured an increase.
Members of the county council’s Cabinet, meeting on December 4, were recommended to back an increase in the second homes tax premium to 150 per cent, or greater, and an increase for empty properties to 50 per cent for two years and 150 per cent for three years, or greater.
However, at the December 4 meeting, Cabinet Member for Corporate Finance Cllr Alec Cormack instead proposed a 200 per cent premium for second homes; empty properties facing a 50 per cent premium for those empty for two years, increasing to 200 per cent for those empty longer for three years or more.
He described the decision to call for a higher second homes rate as “far more difficult” than the case for empty properties, with many such owners having long-term connections with the county.
“But the underlying justification is second homes reduce the amount of homes for Pembrokeshire families,” he said.
Citing Saundersfoot as an example, Cllr Cormack said some parts of the county popular with second-home-ers had seen a huge decline in the number of families with school age children living in them, saying the centre of the village had been described as “almost a child-free zone” with the number of pupils in the school half what it was a decade before.
He told members that, without the increase in second homes tax, the annual council tax bill for full-time residents, at a time of unprecedented financial challenges, was likely to see a percentage increase “probably well into double figures,” later citing a figure of a possible 22 per cent increase.
Cabinet Member for Housing Operations & Regulatory Services Cllr Michelle Bateman said the increase was “not about demonising the owners of second homes or empty properties,” but compared their plight in facing increased bills with “heartbreaking” messages from local people unable to find places to live.
A voice of concern was raised by Cllr Neil Prior, who said he was “struggling” to support the second homes premium proposal.
“What we have is several policy interventions that we do not know the combined impact of; at this stage I don’t think I can support the proposal.”
The second homes proposal was passed by seven votes to one, with the empty properties part passed unanimously.
Cabinet backing takes the form of a recommendation to the full council meeting of December 14, where a final decision will be made.