Scotland [Unsplash]

Second homeowners in Scotland face double council tax from April

Scotland: The Scottish National Party is believed to be preparing to force families with rural second homes to pay double the amount of council tax they pay from April 2024, in what is being called a “radical shake-up of rural housing rules” according to The Scottish Mail on Sunday.

According to proposals set out by the Scottish Government in its Rural Housing Action Plan, holiday home owners will pay more for their properties that are not classed as main residences and could even face the prospect of councils buying up the homes in compulsory purchases and seeing them be converted into private rental accommodation. In addition, it is reported that a ‘public interest test’ could be applied to any ‘sale or transfer’ of estates, which may result in large landholdings being taken into public or community ownership.

The party led by Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf is aiming to make it easier for young families to purchase their first homes in rural areas such as the Scottish Highlands and Islands, while encouraging young people not to leave their communities in search of better job and economic prospects elsewhere.

Admitting that he had had a “tough” first six months in his role since being elected as First Minister in March, Yousaf has already been forced into a key U-turn at this week’s SNP conference in Aberdeen by agreeing to water down an initial proposal and only declare a mandate for independence if the SNP wins a majority of the seats in Parliament.

In addition, Yousaf has faced a mounting backlash from holiday home and self-catered accommodation providers in Scotland after a bid to halt a 1 October national short-term let licensing scheme deadline was denied. Opponents of the SNP’s proposed rules included the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party, which said the new rules would have a significantly detrimental effect on the Scottish tourism sector and wider economy.

Last month, fresh analysis by the UK Short Term Accommodation Association [STAA] of housing land audits published by all Scottish planning authorities showed that there were 371,6121 homes waiting to be built nationally, amid claims that the short-term let sector has been scapegoated for wider issues surrounding the affordable housing shortage crisis.

News of the Scottish Government and COSLA’s [The Convention of Scottish Land Authorities] plans were first revealed in April, ahead of a 12-week consultation on the proposed change that ended in July.

A default council tax discount of 50 per cent currently applies to second and empty homes, with homes being left empty for more than a year being charged double the full rate. The consultation discussed potential changes to the definition of when a property offering self-catered accommodation becomes liable for non-domestic rates, as this currently only happens if it is rented out for 70 nights and is available for 140 nights per financial year.

Last month, Yousaf committed to introducing a £35 million council tax ‘raid’ on second home owners as part of the SNP’s Programme for Government, and the latest Action Plan is a continuation of those proposals. Local authorities including Angus, the Western Isles, Edinburgh, North Ayrshire, South Ayrshire and West Lothian have so far suggested that they will charge a 100 per cent levy on second home owners as a result.

Fergus Ewing, the MSP for Inverness and Nairn and a former Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy, who was suspended by the SNP last month, voiced his opposition to the proposals, telling The Scottish Mail on Sunday: “These proposals will punish those who have invested hard-earned cash in homes and will lead many to invest abroad instead, driving money out of Scotland and damaging many local economies with less money going to local builders, shops and tradesmen.

“The damaging short-term let regulations have seen thousands of small businesses simply give up – so there’s already less money going into many rural communities. Added to this wilful destruction of small businesses, more new regulation will further damage these communities,” he added.

In contrast, SNP Housing Minister Paul McLennan said that the plan would “deliver the right homes in the right places, generate sustainable local economic growth and help rural and island communities to thrive”.

Further restrictions on short-term lets are expected to come into effect soon too, which will enable councils to limit the number of properties that can be listed on platforms in particular locations, known as ‘control areas’.

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