Herefordshire Council has passed a motion to introduce a council tax premium for second homes and empty properties, which could provide a much-needed boost to the council's revenue-raising capabilities.

The move is in response to the government's Leveling Up and Regeneration Bill, which offers more discretionary options for the application of council tax premiums on empty properties and second homes. If the bill receives Royal assent, the proposed changes will come into effect on April 1, 2024.

The proposal was introduced by the cabinet member for finance, corporate services, and planning, who highlighted the persistent challenge of Herefordshire residents struggling to find affordable accommodation. The proposed measures are designed to incentivize property owners to quickly bring empty properties back into occupation and to recognize the impact of the second home market on local housing availability. Additionally, the move could also increase visitor numbers and spending in the local economy.

During the council meeting (Friday, February 10), some councillors expressed concerns about how the policy would be policed, while others were outright in favour of the proposal. One councillor cautioned that the figure of 6,900 empty properties may not be accurate, and the resulting number could be lower. However, the proposal was widely welcomed as a much-needed addition to the council's revenue-raising toolkit. The move could have a significant positive impact on the local community, as local families are struggling to find suitable affordable accommodation and holiday lets are taking up permanent dwellings.

In a recorded vote, the council unanimously approved the proposal, which will introduce a council tax premium for second homes and properties that have been empty and unfurnished for a period of between one and two years, subject to the reference legislation being approved. The council hopes that the scheme will increase its income, which will help to close the financing gap in the coming years. While there may be some social problems caused by the legislation, the council is confident that it will be able to find ways to work around them.

This move by Herefordshire Council highlights the growing issue of affordable housing and the impact of second homes on local availability. The proposal is part of a wider effort to address these issues and could provide a much-needed boost to the council's finances. As the government's Leveling Up and Regeneration Bill progresses, more local authorities may follow suit, making council tax premiums a more common tool in the fight to increase affordable housing and tackle the issue of empty properties.