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19 Nov 2002 : Column WA3

Written Answers

Tuesday, 19th November 2002.

Long-term Empty Housing

Baroness Billingham asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will clarify the position on the use of council tax information to address the problem of long-term empty housing.[HL99]

The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker): The Government recognise that council tax information may be useful to local authority empty homes services in their work to get such property back into use. However, it is unclear whether legislation as it currently stands allows either personal or non-personal information collected for council tax purposes to be divulged to, or used by, other parts of an authority. And I am aware that the Information Commissioner has advised that the legislation does not permit such uses of council tax personal information.

The Government have therefore decided to legislate in the forthcoming Local Government Bill to make it clear that local authorities can use personal and non-personal council tax information to support the development and implementation of strategies dealing with empty homes. In legislating, we will ensure that personal information will be limited to an individual's name or an address or number for communicating with him. I believe this is a sensible and proportionate response which will help get more long-term empty domestic property back into use.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will change the 50 per cent council tax discount for second homes and long-term empty properties and other council tax discounts and exemptions.[HL100]

Lord Rooker: In the light of responses to last November's consultation paper on proposed changes for second homes and long-term empty homes, we

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have decided to give local authorities new discretion in relation to council tax discounts and exemptions.

First, we will allow English local authorities to reduce council tax discounts on second homes from 50 per cent to a minimum 10 per cent. Authorities in the areas where the discount has been reduced will retain any additional council tax raised. We do not propose to reduce their revenue support grant to reflect their ability to raise more council tax. The changes could raise an estimated extra £65 million in England and authorities will be able to decide how to spend this money to improve local public services, such as affordable housing, transport or policing.

We have decided not to remove the discount completely because owners need an incentive to inform the local authority that properties are second homes. Without such information, local authorities would not be able to identify the extra revenue which could be raised from changing the discount.

We recognise the special position of those who are required to live in tied accommodation provided by their employer or because of a legal requirement, such as a condition of a licence. A discount of 50 per cent will continue to apply in these cases.

Secondly, we will allow English local authorities to reduce or remove completely the current 50 per cent council tax discounts on long-term empty dwellings. Authorities will not retain any additional revenue raised. This is because we believe that decisions on whether to end the discount should be based purely on whether the measure is likely to make owners consider bringing their properties back into use.

Thirdly, we will give local authorities in England and Wales powers to create their own discounts and exemptions, including powers to grant relief on a case-by-case basis. Authorities exercising these powers will meet the costs of any new discounts or exemptions.

These decisions follow consultation on the proposals which demonstrated strong support for the reduction of discounts on second and long-term empty homes.

An analysis of the responses to the consultation exercise has already been placed in the Library of the House and on the website of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

These measures require primary legislation. As we said in the consultation draft of our Local Government Bill published on 12 June, we plan to add these measures to this Bill before it is introduced.

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