A £2 million loan fund will be launched to help stop empty homes blighting Scotland’s communities, Housing Minister Keith Brown said today.
The new funding was announced as the Unoccupied Properties Bill, which will allow local authorities to charge extra Council Tax on houses that have been empty for more than a year, was introduced to the Scottish Parliament.
The new loan fund will be specifically targeted at projects to bring empty homes into use for affordable housing. For example, this could include council or housing association schemes offering loans to help owners renovate their homes in exchange for the properties being made available as affordable housing.
Scotland’s high streets will also be boosted by the Bill, which will reduce the business rates discount for some empty commercial properties from 50 per cent to 10 per cent. This will encourage owners to bring empty shops back into use.
Even after reform, the relief on offer for empty commercial properties in Scotland will remain significantly more generous than in England. Overall, Scotland continues to provide the UK’s most generous business rates relief package, which offers tax breaks worth well over £500m annually to Scottish businesses.
Mr Brown said:
“Long term empty homes are a blight on communities. They often fall into disrepair, and become a focus for antisocial behaviour like vandalism or fly tipping.
“We will not simply stand by and let this continue to happen. That is why we have introduced an Unoccupied Properties Bill that will allow councils to increase council tax on certain empty homes. That should be a strong incentive for owners who are simply ignoring empty homes to either sell or let the property to someone who needs it, or bring it back into use themselves.
“The Loan Fund will add to our concerted action on tackling empty homes. It will give innovative schemes the extra funding boost needed to take radical action to get empty homes back into use.
“Both these measures will also stimulate sustainable economic growth by supporting jobs where properties need renovation work.”
Local Government Minister Derek Mackay said:
“The Scottish Government wants to see thriving town centres across the country. Our plans to reform empty property relief will introduce incentives to reduce the numbers of empty shops that hold back the development of our high streets.
“Even after reform, the relief on offer for empty commercial properties in Scotland will remain significantly more generous in Scotland than in England.”
Kristen Hubert, Coordinator of the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership, funded by the Scottish Government and hosted by Shelter Scotland, said:
“This £2million loan fund and new powers for councils are great news and a step in the right direction for tackling Scotland’s private sector empty homes.
“We would also like to see councils who choose to charge a council tax levy on long-term empty homes recycle some of that money back into empty homes work. This would provide the help and incentives that homeowners need to bring their properties back into use.
“Bringing empty homes back into use requires both the carrot and the stick approach and this bill, along with the £2 million loan fund, will enable councils to use both.”
- The Local Government Finance (Unoccupied Properties etc.) (Scotland) Bill introduced yesterday, along with subsequent regulations, will see councils receive new powers to increase council tax on long-term empty homes. The Scottish Government proposes that councils should be able to charge up to double the standard rate of council tax for these homes. This could reduce the number of empty homes in Scotland; there are currently around 25,000 homes in Scotland which are classed as long-term empty and are liable for council tax.
- The new loan fund for empty homes will operate as part of a wider fund for innovative and other good value for money projects to deliver affordable housing. Further details on the fund and how organisations can apply for funding will be provided later in the year.
- To encourage owners to rent or sell empty commercial premises to bring them back into active use and to raise additional revenue, new powers available under the Bill will be used to reduce the business rates discount for some empty commercial properties from 50 per cent to 10 per cent. Other types of property with limited use - such as industrial and listed property - will be protected. This will raise around £18m per year from 2013-14 onwards.
- The Bill also ends the Housing Support Grant, totalling £0.76 million in 2012-13, which was originally established to subsidise local authorities' housing budgets by helping to pay historic interest on housing debts, will also be abolished by the Bill from April 1 2013. This will allow all Scottish Government funding for housing to be targeted at key priorities in future.
- To view Bill, visit: Unoccupied Properties Bill