HUNDREDS of empty properties in Somerset will be subject to extra council tax charges from April 1 under new government rules.

Local authorities in England are currently able to charge additional council taxes on empty properties – but only once they have been empty for two years or longer.

Somerset Council passed a resolution in December 2023 allowing it to charge double council tax on properties empty for 12 months or more from April 1, 2024, pending central government approval.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has now approved these changes, with a few exemptions – which could provide millions of pounds in revenue for Somerset’s public services in the coming years.

Under current laws, councils across England can charge the owners of an empty property additional council tax once the property has been empty for two years.

The charge starts at 100 per cent of the normal council tax rate, which rises to 200 per cent for properties which have been empty for five years and 300 per cent year for those left empty for ten years or more.

As part of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act 2023, from April 1 councils can charge the 100 per cent premium on any home that has been vacant for at least 12 months.

The only exemptions will be on empty properties which are uninhabitable due to extensive renovation, second homes that are not available for use year-round due to planning restrictions, or for up to a year on homes that have been inherited to prevent families who are grieving from having to pay.

Somerset Council estimated in December 2023 that this change could raise an extra £1.72m in council tax per year.

North Dorset MP and minister for local government Simon Hoare said: “Long-term empty properties are shutting local families and young people out of the housing market as they are being denied the opportunity to rent or buy in their own community.

“So, we are taking action as part of our long-term plan for housing. That means delivering more of the right homes in the right places and giving councils more powers to help give local people the homes they need.”

In Somerset, there are 2,638 empty properties as of October 2023 (the most recent figures available) – the equivalent of the entire Orchard Grove site on the A38 Wellington Road in Taunton (once completed) and most of the new Centenary Heights development currently being constructed on the A39 Quantock Road in Bridgwater.

The vast majority of these properties – some 1,992 homes, or nearly 76 per cent – have been empty for less than two years.

Of the remaining properties, 453 have been empty for at least two years (17 per cent), 106 have been empty for at least five years (around four per cent) and 87 have been empty for ten years or more (just over three per cent).

A spokesman for Somerset Council said: “There are many reasons for a home being empty.

“There are individual factors, such as unresolved ownership usually following the death of an owner, the bankruptcy of the owner, relationship breakdowns, the owner may be institutionalised (i.e.  admitted into hospital or sent to prison), the owner may lack expertise in property and tenancy management, or the property may be unoccupied because the owner has died.

“There are also property factors – such as the property being a second home or being acquired solely for speculative investment purposes. The owner may not fully appreciate the financial benefits of bringing the empty property back into use, and there may be low demand in the local area.

“The property may be uninhabitable or in an otherwise poor condition, and the costs of bringing the property back into use may be prohibitive.

“There are also factors within the wider housing market, such as a market collapse (leading to repossession and negative equity), an over-supply of certain property types or slow property sales.

“Area regeneration may result in properties being empty pending renovation or demolition.”

Second homes are not currently subject to any council tax premiums – though they are also ineligible for any discounts (such as those offered to single occupants or those leaving the care system).

The presence of large quantities of second homes has put huge pressure on housing supply in the more picturesque parts of the country, including the coastal towns in the former West Somerset area (such as Minehead and Watchet) and settlements near popular tourist attractions, such as Cheddar.

From April 1, 2025, the council can charge a 100 per cent premium on empty second homes – which could generate around £4.09m a year.