The report proposed that a public consultation exercise was undertaken in which it be recommended that the Empty Homes Premium be increased from April 2023 to the maximum permitted under the Rating (Property in Common Occupation) and Council Tax (Empty Dwellings) Act 2018.
A Member questioned the benefit of the consultation highlighting that there was no statutory requirement to consult. It was suggested that fees should be increased immediately as this would deliver a saving of £8,500. In response both the Portfolio Holder for Resources Commission and Contracts Management and the Director of Finance underlined that there was a financial risk to the Council were there to be a legal challenge in the event a consultation was not undertaken. The Committee noted that there would be a range of consultees and Members requested that the consultation be expedited as far possible. The Director of Finance confirmed that Officers would seek to mitigate the cost of the consultation as far as possible.
The Legal Advisor to the Committee noted that whilst there was no statutory requirement to consult, consultation was recommended. Furthermore, if the Local Authority had consulted on previous proposals the argument could be made that there was a legitimate expectation that the Local Authority now consult. There was also a requirement to ensure any consultation was meaningful.
The Chairman proposed that rather than “consultation” the Local Authority was making a request for comments. This amendment was agreed by the Committee.
The Chairman also requested that the 6-week request for comments exercise be concluded in sufficient time to enable the changes to be implemented on 1 April 2023.
The Vice-Chairman, Councillor Slator, recorded his opposition to the consultation and the proposals in general.
RESOLVED: That the Portfolio Holder be recommended to approve a public request for comments exercise be undertaken recommending that the Empty Homes Premium is increased to maximum amounts permitted.