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Nearly 670 per cent increase in long-term empty properties in the Highlands

By Rachel Smart

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There has been a 670 per cent increase in the number of long term empty properties in the Highlands.
There has been a 670 per cent increase in the number of long term empty properties in the Highlands.

There has been an almost 670 per cent increase in the number of long-term empty properties in the Highlands over the last ten years.

Properties that have been empty for 12 months or more within the region increased from 434 in 2013 to 3334 in 2023. The figures were released by the Scottish Government earlier this month.

The Highlands also had the largest number of second-homes in Scotland, with 3753 being registered this year.

With many people who live and work in the region struggling to find accommodation and an ongoing housing crisis, Highland Council members are seeking a solution on the matter.

Councillor Alasdair Christie commented: “We know there are so many young people in the Highlands struggling to get their first accommodation especially within high tourist destinations. It’s difficult for them to get on the property market due to them being second homes, short-term lets or empty.

“I think it would be good to get many empty properties back into use that could help Highland communities.

“I think conversations need to take place with owners, and if they want to bring their properties out of use and talk to the council – of what grants available and give general advice and put them in touch with other people – there's such a shortage of accommodation that solutions could be found.”

For some small communities, the impact is being felt greatly with businesses having to close for several days a week due a lack of staff because they have nowhere to live.

Megan MacInnes, local development officer for Applecross Community Company said: “Applecross is facing an affordable housing crisis, much like a lot of the west coast and tourist hotspots.

“We estimate that 45 per cent of the housing stock on the peninsula are second homes or short-term let, and we’ve got a huge housing need. We have a lot of young people stuck living with their parents, and we’ve had families leave and businesses leave. Its really impacting not just on young folk, but on the businesses with our two hospitality venues here both shutting for several days as they don’t have enough accommodation for their staff.

“We’ve done a number of housing needs assessments, and the figures are shocking.”

New powers enabling councils to charge up to double the full rate of council tax on second homes have been agreed by the Scottish Parliament.

Councils will be able to increase the charges from 1 April 2024, with rates for the first year being based on those from 2023-24, which Highland Council has agreed to do.

The change brings second homes into line with council tax policy on long-term empty homes and aims to increase housing availability by encouraging more homes to be used for living in.

New owners of properties that have previously been empty for more than twelve months will now have a six-month grace period, during which they will be protected from paying double the full council tax rate, with the potential for the six months to be extended by councils. This is subject to evidence that renovations or repairs are being undertaken by the owner with a view to the building being brought back into use.

Public Finance Minister Tom Arthur said: “I’m pleased Parliament has backed this important legislation. These changes to council tax were a commitment made in our Programme for Government and aim to make sure the tax system works as an incentive to prioritise homes for living in.

“A majority of those who responded to our consultation earlier this year supported councils being able to charge a council tax premium on top of regular rates for second homes.

“By protecting those renovating an empty home from paying the empty home premium, we are incentivising new ownership and giving them time to organise and undertaken the work necessary to bring it back into use.”

Kate Forbes MSP said: “There’s no doubt that affordable housing is under immense pressure in the Highlands.

“Despite the SNP’s track record of building thousands of homes since 2007, many young families can’t afford a warm, safe home in my constituency. This is particularly acute in rural areas like Skye where there is a high density of holiday homes – though I am grateful for the creative work of the Communities Housing Trust and others to help find solutions locally, including bringing derelict properties back into use.

“There is no silver bullet to resolve the housing crisis but taxing second homes more is one means of encouraging occupation.

“I’d also like to see further targeted investment specifically for rural and remote areas on this issue.”

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