To let sign on Ramsgate vacant property

GMB call for more robust tax regime to reduce vacant properties in Kent

Many, many more of these purposefully unoccupied dwellings must be utilised more thoroughly and for that to happen there needs to be a punitive tax regime put in place says GMB Southern

There are 18,380 vacant properties in Kent, over a quarter of which, 5,375, have been vacant for more than 6 months. In England as a whole there are 600,179 vacant dwellings, 203,596 of which have been empty for more than 6 months.

In Medway there are 2,910 vacant dwellings, the authority in the area with the highest number. Next highest is Thanet with 2,420 vacant dwellings, Shepway with 1,683, Canterbury with 1,544, Dover with 1,476, Swale with 1,442 and Sevenoaks with 1,165.

The current tax regime differs significantly depending on where the vacant property is located. Councils can either offer a discount for a second home or an empty property or they can charge extra for empty properties, up to 50% on top of the full charge, if the property has been empty for 2 years or more.

The number of empty properties leads to fewer properties available and higher rents due to the increase in demand. See notes for GMB press release last month on average earnings and rents.

Set out in the table below are the 2015 figures for all 13 authority areas in Kent. The table has been compiled by GMB Southern region using official data from the Department for Communities and Local Government, see notes to editors for sources and definitions.

Rank All vacant dwellings – October 2015
1 Medway UA 2,910
2 Thanet 2,420
3 Shepway 1,683
4 Canterbury 1,544
5 Dover 1,476
6 Swale 1,442
7 Sevenoaks 1,165
8 Tonbridge and Malling 1,132
9 Tunbridge Wells 1,025
10 Maidstone 1,017
11 Ashford 1,008
12 Dartford 878
13 Gravesham 680

Karen Constantine, GMB regional officer and Labour councillor in Thanet said, “It is abundantly clear that the current tax regime is not working and a more robust structure is needed. Even if the full 50% extra charge in council tax is levied, this is not a deterrent to the wealthiest investors.

Many, many more of these 18,380 purposefully unoccupied dwellings must be utilised more thoroughly. These empty properties can be used and transformed into homes for people and families desperately in need of decent and affordable housing. For that to happen there needs to be a punitive tax regime put in place.

The decisions of the Thatcher government in the 1980’s to sell council housing stock, and not replace it, and to pay landlords housing benefit instead of providing social housing directly has been a huge and expensive mistake.

Last year, for example, £24 billion was spent on housing benefit, with much of this public money ending up untaxed in bank accounts in offshore tax havens. If a fraction of that amount had been spent on social housing for rent, the strain on the tax payer would be less and people would have housing they can afford to live in.

The situation will only get worse next year when the Housing and Planning Act comes into force in April 2017 which will force councils to sell off high value council properties when they become empty. Selling social housing, at a time of dire shortages of homes for rent at affordable prices, is scandalous and irresponsible madness.”
Contact: Karen Constantine on 07984 532212, Michelle Gordon on 07866 369259