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Council / Council to employ officer to help bring empty properties back to market

SHETLAND Islands Council has used new discretionary powers to more than double council tax rates for second homes to 200 per cent of standard rates.

However, a proposal to also include long-term empty homes in the new policy was rejected and will now be taken forward in a more gradual manner.

The council will also appoint an empty homes officer to assist local people in the challenge of bringing empty properties back to market.

A meeting of the full council on Thursday heard that increasing council tax from the current 90 per cent to 200 per cent on the 658 properties in both these categories could bring in an extra £700,000 to the local authority.

However, several councillors spoke about representations they had received from concerned constituents who had inherited an empty property, that was not in a fit state to live in, and were now faced with the prospect of a council tax hike.

Asked by Lerwick South councillor John Fraser if the new policy could have “unintended consequences” detrimental to the stated aspiration of making more homes available for rent or to buy, the council’s finance chief Paul Fraser agreed that that could be the case.

Fraser then moved to adjourn a decision on the 437 long-term empty properties for a year to allow housing officers to assess the scale of those unintended consequences.

However, depute leader Gary Robinson reminded elected members that this was a new government policy that empowered councils to set a local tax to tackle a local problem.

SIC depute convener Bryan Peterson. Photo: Shetland News

Quoting from the council’s own housing strategy, he said there were 600 people on the waiting list, while seven per cent of all houses in Shetland were standing empty.

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It was for depute convener Bryan Peterson to come up with a compromise that was acceptable to most councillors.

His proposal to gradually increase council tax on empty homes starting with 125 per cent for 2024/25 and by a further 25 per cent annually thereafter until 200 per cent has been reached, and use some of the funds generated to employ an empty homes officer, easily won the day.

The meeting heard from councillors and officers alike that renovating an old building to 21st century standards can often be a daunting and costly task, and while help and assistance such as crofting grants and VAT relief were available, these were not always easily accessible.

Council tax on Shetland’s 221 second homes will be set at double the standard rate as of April.


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