A CLAMPDOWN on empty properties will be stepped up by Cheshire East Council next year after members agreed to hike fees levied at their owners.

The local authority increased a premium on empty properties in April 2019 – meaning owners of homes that have been empty for at least two years pay double the amount of council tax other households pay.

CEC also reduced the amount of time an empty rental property can have a council tax discount from eight weeks to six weeks.

But at Thursday’s full council meeting, members agreed to toughen up those rules again.

Owners of properties that have stood empty for five years will now pay three times the standard rate of council tax from April 2020 – while the discount for all empty rental properties will be cut again to four weeks.

Labour Cllr Nick Mannion, cabinet member environment and regeneration, said: “There are far too many residential properties in this country that stand empty for no other reason than the owner choosing to let them stand empty – there is no structural reason, there is no engineering reason why they are empty.

Winsford Guardian:

“I am amazed at the length of times some residential properties that could be brought back into use very quickly have been allowed to stand empty – in some cases, two or three decades.

“And this at a time when we’ve got an ever-increasing number of families in housing need, and particularly at this time of year, we still have people living on our streets sleeping rough.

“Any way to bring properties back into use must have a beneficial impact across all the residents of Cheshire East.”

Since April 2013, local authorities have had the power to charge a premium to owners of properties which have stood unoccupied and unfurnished for at least two years.

That used to involve a limit to the premium of an additional 50 per cent on the rate of council tax – but the Government relaxed those rules in 2017.

Cllr David Marren, independent, welcomed the clampdown – and called the penalties to be increased further in future.

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He said: “The renting of homes is a business, and from time to time they do run empty, as a consequence of running a business.

“I don’t particularly see why businesses should be benefitting from six weeks of discounts and I support it being reduced to four.

“However, I have to say that I am personally disappointed that we have to wait five years before the premium is applied.

“There are a number of empty homes that fall into disrepair – their gardens become overgrown, the hedges are overgrown, they become a blight on neighbouring properties and so neighbouring properties can’t actually be sold because of some of these empty homes.”

However, while he supported the changes, Conservative Cllr Tony Dean called for a ‘quick appeals process’ for cases where homes are empty through ‘no fault of the owner at all’.

Winsford Guardian:

“I do personally know of two or three properties which are held up in legal complications,” he added.

“One of them for instance was invaded and made into a marijuana farm and it’s still in the courts, so it would be very unfair to charge the owner for the fact it’s been empty for so long, it’s not his fault.”

Cllr Amanda Stott, cabinet member for finance, ICT and communication, told Cllr Dean she would ‘look into the matter’.