The Sunday Telegraph reports that the Government is planning to scrap the Council Tax discounts for second homes and empty homes. This would mean the rest of us paying lower Council Tax – the Band D average of £1,196 would be reduced by £20.
There are arguments on both sides. The paper welcomed the prospect in an editorial. Among the points made was that the plan would help see off Lib Dem demands for a Mansion Tax. The changes proposed on the Council Tax would be a much more effective method of redistribution from rich to poor than the Mansion Tax. The Mansion Tax would take money from the rich to give to the state. The Council Tax changes would mean the rich paying more tax with the poor paying less tax.
Discounts are sometimes justified on the basis that if the property is empty most of the time then fewer Council services are being used. But most of us would not like houses on our street left empty – to attract burglars squatters and vandals. We want to live in a thriving community. So we don't think: "Oh goody. Number 43 has been left empty so more Council services to go round for the rest of us."
Presentation is important though. The Government must not be anti aspiration and must not come across as anti aspiration. There is nothing wrong with owning a second home. The "hard working families" that politicians like to talk about include those who live in cities but might wish their children to grow up seeing something of the countryside. They might make the (patriotic and environmentally friendly) decision to buy a cottage for weekends and summer holidays rather than spending thousands a year on flights and hotels abroad. On balance I don't think they should get special favours with Council Tax discounts. But they should certainly not be vilified.