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Council Tax: Second Homes

Volume 815: debated on Thursday 4 November 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to introduce legislation prohibiting second homes advertised as holiday rentals from avoiding council tax by registering for business rates and thereby qualifying for small business rate relief.

I recognise the noble Baroness’s interest in this issue. The Government have confirmed that we will legislate to require that holiday rentals meet an actual letting threshold before being assessed for business rates. This will ensure that only genuine holiday businesses can access the rate relief for small businesses. We will set out further details shortly in the Government’s consultation response.

Minister, this at last is a Cornish/Cumbrian Lib Dem campaign success—I can see the leaflets now. Can he explain why it has taken so long and say when we will get a timetable and conclusions of the 2018 consultation that was never actually published? Does he agree that salt has been rubbed into the wound, given that unscrupulous second-home owners have also received £104 million from Cornwall’s Covid aid pot, thus reducing the amount available to legitimate businesses?

My Lords, I should have registered my residential and commercial property interests, although I have not tried to use this loophole. The Government announced in March that we will legislate, and we have been working very closely with the Treasury and the Valuation Office Agency to finalise the details of how and when this will be implemented. This of course takes time and we will publish our consultation response shortly.

My Lords, the proliferation of holiday lets in lakeland towns such as Ambleside, Windermere and Keswick is decimating the residential market for locals, particularly the young. The switch from council tax to a reduced business rate system will only aggravate the problem by further incentivising holiday letting. Is not the answer to this wider problem of drift to holiday letting to cap the number of holiday lets through the use of a combination of licensing and planning rules? Something has to be done.

My Lords, the Government support the sharing economy, but the noble Lord will be pleased to know that we recognise the concerns about the uneven regulatory requirements in it. In the Tourism Recovery Plan, published in June 2021, we committed to consult on the introduction of a tourist accommodation registration scheme in England.

My Lords, the Minister referred to a consultation, but does he accept that every residential property should pay council tax and parish precepts, whether it is a main home, a second home or a holiday let, as a contribution to local services?

I point out that 96% of second homes pay council tax in full, even though they may use local services only on an occasional basis. We believe that, in the sharing economy, where people run businesses and meet the threshold, it is reasonable for them not to pay council tax and to be subject to the business rates regime. No local authority has lost out, because they are covered by various grants in the business rates retention scheme.

My Lords, I refer to my interest as a vice-president of the LGA. Last year, the Chancellor announced a major reduction in stamp duty, which also covered buyers of buy-to-let properties, holiday homes and other second homes. Can the Minister confirm how much the tax cut for second home owners cost the public purse in total?

My understanding is that we have introduced a stamp duty surcharge of some three percentage points on top of the standard rate for those who purchase additional properties. That covers all second home owners, so they are not getting off lightly when they are buying their homes, and the Treasury is doing very well out of that regime.

My Lords, I declare my interest as a second home owner. Can the Minister tell me what impact he thinks this will have on communities where second homes are prevalent?

My Lords, it is a hard one to answer; in some areas where tourism is incredibly important it is a great boost to the economy, and in others it can result in the hollowing out of a particular area. I cannot give a simple response to that question.

My Lords, the Question of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, touches on one aspect of the housing crisis facing many living in tourist areas, but particularly coastal communities. As we found during the 2018 Select Committee inquiry on seaside towns, many local residents face a combination of low pay, high rents or unaffordable mortgages, and being squeezed out of the housing market by holiday lets. What plans do the Government have to find a workable solution to the interplay of these connected problems that does not penalise families struggling to make ends meet and trying to find a decent job?

My Lords, there are a number of schemes. I have mentioned the £11.5 billion affordable homes programme; there is also the first homes scheme, which has a minimum discount of 30% but which, with local councils, can be increased to 40% or 50%, so that new homes are offered first to people who live locally. Those kinds of initiatives will help local people get on the housing ladder, which is what the vast majority of people want.

My Lords, I refer the House to my entries in the register. Holiday lets, as we know, can be much more lucrative than tenancies, with landlords frequently able to bring in the income they would get over the course of a whole year from tenants in just the summer months. Small business rate relief also means that they can pay very little tax. Should the Government not do more in this area, perhaps with a larger levy, to encourage landlords to rent to tenants instead and help deal with the housing crisis that we spend so much time talking about in this House?

My Lords, we are approaching this by ensuring that people do not game the system. It is perfectly proper, if you have a business, to be subject to the business rates regime. We have not yet finalised what that threshold will be. We are also consulting on whether there is a need for registration of these homes, as I have mentioned.