Leader’s despair over council tax policy loophole

Date published: 04 December 2018

Council leader Allen Brett was left bemoaning the ‘world has gone mad’ after learning of a loophole in a policy that had only just been passed.

Last week, Rochdale Council cabinet members rubber-stamped proposals to double council premiums on homes left empty for two years or longer in a bid to bring more of them back into use.

It is hoped that ramping up the premiums from 50 percent to 100pc will spur owners into action and result in a much-needed boost to the borough’s housing stock.

But leader Allen Brett was left flabbergasted when a potential loophole in the policy was exposed later in the same meeting.

While discussing plans for the council to compulsorily purchase a long-vacant property in Heywood, Councillor Brett asked officers whether its owner would be among those facing a hike in council tax premium.

But neighbourhoods director Peter Maynard said he understood the mid-terrace property was not subject to council tax, having been ‘taken out of ratings because it’s in such a dilapidated condition’.

He confirmed that owners of homes that are not fit to be lived in can apply to the valuation officer to have them removed from council tax liability.

Councillor Brett struggled to contain his disbelief.

“Let me get this clear, if a property becomes so dilapidated it’s taken out of rating?” he asked.

“This is crazy, we’ve just passed a report tonight for to put up premiums but if you’re really awkward and let your property get so bad it’s not habitable, you don’t pay any rates, that can’t be right. The world’s gone mad.”

Regeneration chief Councillor John Blundell also called on the council to remove the ‘carrots’-  it offers landlords whose properties have fallen into disrepair – including being able access cheap loans via the authority.

Despite the note of controversy, the policy is expected to raise an additional £150,000 in council tax income and bring a significant number of the 271 affected properties back into use.

Councillor Neil Emmott, cabinet member for the environment, said: “I fully support this, 100 percent. I’m sure many of us have, over the years,  come across properties that have been empty for donkeys’ years, many have gone to rack and ruin and are an absolute menace to people living in the area.

“It’s an utter travesty when we think there are homeless people in this borough, and empty properties lying there could be used to house people.”

Cabinet members also approved proposals to raise the age care leavers begin paying council tax from 21 to 25.

It comes after the government extended local authorities’ ‘corporate parenting responsibility’ to the age of 25 – including making sure care leavers are on a sound financial footing.

Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, Councillor Kieran Heakin said it would bring extra security to care leavers negotiating the challenges of early adulthood.

He said: “It’s a time when they are very vulnerable, when they first move into independent living.

“If you don’t pay your electricity you have a payment plan, but if you don’t pay your council tax you’re evicted. It’s a way of stopping them being out on the street and being homeless.”

Nick Statham, Local Democracy Reporter

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