Empty homes in Chorley are set to be taxed in a plan to plug an £850,000 gap in funding.
As part of new plans to change the way council tax benefits are dished out across the country, Chorley Council has been asked to devise a plan to cut the number of people claiming support on council tax.
The changes will mean grants from central Government are reduced by 10 per cent – creating an estimated shortfall of £826,000.
To plug this gap, vacant homes which currently enjoy an exemption on council tax will be hit – and the remainder will be picked up in a 7.5 per cent cut in current benefits.
There are currently 1,334 empty homes in Chorley. The changes will generate almost £700,000 a year.
Under the plans, support to pensioners and ‘vulnerable groups’ will remain the same.
Coun Alistair Bradley, leader of Chorley Council, said the proposals, which are set to go before full council next week to be discussed, were designed to protect the most vulnerable.
He said: “The Government has asked us to look at reducing the benefit people get. They said old people can’t be affected, which puts the potential for a big cut on everyone else, including people who do work in lower paid jobs.
“We think taking it in a graded way is a more realistic approach.
“We want to encourage people not to let properties sit empty. There is a shortage in houses and we want to say that if you want to keep your house empty you can do, but you have to pay council tax on it.
“These streets the houses are on are still being cleaned. And properties that are empty are more likely to attract problems. No one wants to live next door to an empty house.”
8,181 people in Chorley claim council tax benefits. A total of 3,937 claimants are pensioners protected by the changes.
Changes will need to be put in place by April 2013, when council tax benefit will be abolished.
Chorley Council’s element of this equates to around £90,000. The rest of it is shared between Lancashire County Council, Lancashire Police, and Lancashire Fire and Rescue.
Empty and unfurnished homes, which currently have a 50 per cent exemption indefinitely, will be charged a premium of 125 per cent after two years. Homes taken into possession by mortgage lenders, where currently no council tax is paid, will have no exemption, as will furnished second homes.
Coun Peter Goldsworthy, leader of Chorley’s Conservative group, said: “I support the changes in the desire to ensure that people who are on benefits don’t earn more money than those in work.
“Under these changes, over 50 per cent of people who are getting benefits will be exempt, and that’s good.
“However, I am concerned about raising council tax on unoccupied properties.
“If you can’t recoup this amount of money, then the burden is on the tax payer.”
The plans will go out to a formal eight-week public consultation before a final decision is made in January.