Homeowners to pay tax on empty properties in Lincoln in bid to cut budget deficits
Homeowners in Lincoln will have to pay tax on empty properties as part of plans to help fund budget deficits.
Some discounts could be scrapped when the City of Lincoln Council takes control of council tax benefits next year.
Currently, homes that are unoccupied and undergoing refurbishment receive a 12-month rate exemption.
But, if plans are approved in January, owners will have to pay 75 per cent of the monthly bill from April.
Meanwhile, unoccupied, unfurnished homes will receive a two-month exemption but will then have to pay the full charge.
Homeowners with properties which remain empty for more than two years will be charged 150 per cent of the council tax. It is hoped this move will also encourage owners to bring unoccupied properties back into use.
The changes come after central Government made council tax benefit a local authority responsibility – but on a 10 per cent smaller budget.
Around £7.9 million of council tax benefit is paid out every year in Lincoln.
The changes are part of wider welfare reforms.
Council bosses say they want to run a "no-change scheme", which means people in receipt of council tax benefit should not see their cash cut.
Councillor Ric Metcalfe, leader of the council said: "These national changes will have serious consequence for the poorest people in the city.
"The measures are callous, unfair and ill-conceived.
"The burden of the Government's austerity measures are falling on the poorest rather than the rich.
"The way to reduce the overall costs of benefits is to get some investment going, to get people back to work, and restore Government income thereby increasing tax revenues.
"Being punitive towards people receiving benefit is not going to create more jobs."
Another planned change is the introduction of a so-called "bedroom tax" for social housing. The charge is calculated based on the number of spare bedrooms in a house, and Mr Metcalfe believes it could leave Lincoln residents up to £15 per week out of pocket.
In addition, total household benefit claims will be capped at £26,000. It is estimated 40 households in Lincoln will be affected by this.
But there will also be limited money available for discretionary housing payments, where the council will be able to contribute to living costs in some cases.
Martin Walmsley, head of shared resources and benefits at the council, said: "We want to try and help the most deserving people.
"For example, if somebody lives in a one-bedroom place now but is three months away from having a baby and wants to move to a bigger property, we will look to meet those extra housing costs for the three months. We are actively contacting customers explaining all these changes.
"We have got officers going round talking to people and we have also got a dedicated advice team.
"People are not going to like much of this but what we don't want is for people not to know about it."
Residents in North Kesteven will only be able to claim up to 75 per cent of their council tax in benefits, although pensioners, carers, the disabled and war pensioners will be protected and will still receive 100 per cent benefits.
Meanwhile, in West Lindsey, everybody will be asked to pay at least 10 per cent of their council tax bill, but, again, pensioners, disabled residents, carers and those receiving war pensions are protected. WLDC will also be increasing non-dependent deductions and altering exemptions and discounts on unused properties.
Visit www.lincoln.gov.uk/welfarereform or call 01522 873355.