Buy to Let

Council tax penalty on man who couldn’t let his property

Here’s a weird one – if you own a buy-to-let home it will cost you more council tax if it stands empty than if it has just one person living there.

This is currently vexing buy-to-let landlord Ashley Rumbold, who has spent the past six months trying to let a property he owns in Petworth Street off East Road in the City Centre.

He says he will have to cough up between £600 and £700 to Cambridge City Council, whereas, if there had been a lone tenant, the council tax bill would have been 25 per cent lower due to single occupancy relief.

You could say that what’s extraordinary is that any property in the city centre could take so long to let, but that’s another story.

Meanwhile, although logic would appear to be on Mr Rumbold’s side, the city council’s reasoning is not without merit.

As Head of Local Taxation, Kevin Jay explains, everything changed in April 2013 when the six month exemption on empty properties was abolished by the government.

“Every local authority had to design a new scheme and councils were allowed to introduce local discounts. We replaced six months with one month as we thought this would be long enough to re-let a property in Cambridge.”

And Mr Jay confirmed that council tax changes were also designed to try and encourage landlords to let their properties rather than “buy-to-leave” – a not unknown scenario where investors, often from overseas, have bought whole blocks of flats, only to leave them empty – rather like investing in fine wines you will never drink, just sell on in due course.

Mr Jay said: “The number of empty properties in Cambridge is fairly static, with a few hundred homes empty at any one time, but this is often because they are between tenants.”

Whether or not the extremely wealthy who can afford to buy up whole blocks of new flats have been encouraged to let them as a result of the 2013 changes, is difficult to know, but any buy-to-let property in Cambridge left empty for more than two years becomes subject to a 50 per cent increase, which means they will be paying 150 per cent council tax.

The good news is that Mr Rumbold has now found a tenant.

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