As the Liberal Democrats annual conference in Birmingham finishes today, Solicitors and other property professionals will be asking themselves whether the additional tax on empty homes called for by regeneration minister Andrew Stunell will make any difference to Conveyancing in Birmingham.
Stunell told delegates at the Lib Dem conference that it was a “crime” that 300, 000 properties had been vacant for more than six months, equivalent to two years’ new housing supply, at a time of a chronic housing shortage.
The government has already set up a fund, with money available to pay for doing up empty houses from next April, and is due to launch a consultation on a proposed measure which would give councils the power to charge additional council tax on homes left empty. At present vacant homes are exempt from council tax for six months, and thereafter pay at the standard rate.
Conveyancing in Birmingham has declined considerably in the last two years, with fewer new homes being built and many existing owners deciding not to sell for the time being. With fewer homes on the market there is a substantial shortfall in the number of properties available for those who need them. This is especially so at the lower end of the market, where first-time buyers find it difficult to raise big enough mortgages.
Ministers hope that imposing an additional tax after two years will persuade owners either to sell or otherwise put homes back into use. Failing that the extra revenue from the tax could be used by local authorities to take over vacant houses and renovate them for new occupiers.
The government clearly wants to do something to alleviate the housing shortage. However homes may be left vacant for a variety of reasons, and whether it is then proper for local councils to take over such properties and renovate them does smack of a rather Marxist approach to solving the problem.
An additional tax may not be sufficient to persuade owners to sell or rent out vacant buildings, and surely there are other ways in which the housing market could be reinvigorated so that owners would have less reason to leave properties empty.
Like their proposed ‘mansion tax’ this proposed tax looks like yet another Lib Dem plan to soak property owners. Conveyancing Solicitors would of course like to see an upturn of Conveyancing in Birmingham, but this will only be achieved when the government takes steps to instil more confidence in the housing market generally, and to ease the mortgage market.