Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Article "MP Graham Jones tries to knock Government's Empty Homes Premium into shape"

Below is an article by David Gibbens from The Empty Homes Network   regarding my amendments to Local Government Finance Bill last week.

The amendments were of huge significance to Haslngden to Hyndburn and I will keep campaigning to ensure the Government accepts the key points.

It is fairly accurate and raises further questions I followed up on on this bliog not having had the chance to debate them due to teh debate being talked out short of discussing all the matters. Sadly the Empty Homes Premium was one of those items not discussed at all.

Al I would add is that some of my amendments were probing amendments which I would not have pressed to the vote but which I hope the government accept iat 3rd reading or in the Lords. I otherwise intend to field similar amendments at further stages of the bill.

Graham Jones MP tries to knock Government's Empty Homes Premium into shape
Submitted by David Gibbens on 5 February, 2012 - 09:38

On 1st February, Hyndburn MP Graham Jones tabled a number of amendments designed to reshape the proposed Empty Homes Premium into something more coherent and workable than what is to be found in the current Local Government Finance Bill going before Parliament.

In a series of well-argued proposals that parallel many of the comments made in the Empty Homes Network consultation response, MP Jones suggested that
  • the premium be raised to 100% from 50% (ie 200% instead of 150% of normal council tax) 
  • the qualifying period be reduced to one year 
  • to remove the qualification for empty properties as simply being unfurnished
  • the revenue be treated the same as the New Homes Bonus as regards the split between districts and counties in two-tier areas (ie 80% to the housing authority, 20% to the County)*
The details of the amendments and the rationale behind can be found here where he also notes that "regrettably the debate ran out of time and the amendments were not voted upon".

One further point raised by Graham Jones that was not in our consultation response was the treatment of properies owned by councils following CPO. Jones wants to see an exemption category for them. Under the currrent proposals, not only would these be subject to the Empty Homes Premium but most of the money would go to the County in a two-tier area. Jones writes in his blog as follows:

This is extremely unfair. Often District Councils have the best intentions in owning properties. This is particularly the case in run down areas where the private sector is not interested in regenerating – it often falls to councils to fill the gaps where private developers have ignored or abandoned. In areas where the community desperately needs regeneration, councils are frequently the developer of last resort.

It seems deeply unfair to me that these local authorities pay 100% Council Tax but only receive 15% of it, despite the fact that it is District Councils that take on the responsibility for community regeneration. I believe the Government should be doing everything it can to be encourage local authorities to take on exactly the sort of regeneration projects this Council Tax discourages.

For unitary authorities, the exemption would simply be cost neutral and would not create any disincentives. The disincentive to undertake development programmes would only occur in the two-tier authorities with which I am concerned. Without an exemption for properties bought through a CPO many councils will step back from essential development programmes.

The diverse currents of opinion within the empty homes world may respond differently to exemptions for CPO'd properties, according to whether an exemption is seen to underpin irresponsible area regeneration schemes that should never have been started or to be a vital necessity for a particular community. But certainly:
  • it cannot be fair to penallise local authorities where the governemnt has turned the funding tap off overnight.
  • It is clear that the time needef for land assembly should be taken into account in any funding regime.
  • A differential impact between unitary and district authorities must be completely unacceptable.
This clearly underpins the need for the bulk of revenue from empty homes to accrue to the housing authority (at least 80%, in line with New Homes Bonus).

The amendments Jones proposed are of considerable practical importance for the effective implementation of this particular measure. We hope that the fact the debate ran out of time doesn't mean this is the end of the story.

*In two-tier areas the amount of counci ltax retained by the district - which is also the housing authority - can be 15% or less.