Even though there are nearly 60,000 homes sitting empty in London, a city with a massive housing crisis, it turns out that not all boroughs are using one of the (admittedly limited) powers available to encourage bringing homes back into use.
The Empty Homes Premium is the ability to charge 50% extra council tax on homes left empty for two or more years. According to Assembly Member Darren Johnson, Barnet, Bromley, Enfield, Greenwich, Hammersmith and Fulham, Harrow, Havering, Hillingdon, Kensington and Chelsea, Kingston upon Thames, Lambeth, Merton, Sutton and Westminster don't charge that premium, and the City of London allows a 50% council tax discount on empty homes.
Daniel Astaire, a councillor at Westminster, told the BBC "it's not our part to interfere... We are a low-tax borough, we are proud of being a low-tax borough and we don't think this [the premium] will make any meaningful difference in the city". According to Empty Homes, 1.43% of the 118,427 homes in Westminster are empty long term — the third highest in London (2.02% of Kensington and Chelsea's and 1.47% of Camden's homes are empty long term).
It's possible that the people leaving homes empty in Westminster, Kensington and Camden are wealthy enough not to care about extra council tax. Certainly, Westminster's rates are low. The owner of a Band H home in Westminster currently pays £1,353.48 a year in council tax, less than a Band D home in (for example) Lewisham and Ealing; another 50% on top would still be less than Band G homes in the latter two boroughs. Camden, on the other hand, doesn't think an extra 50% is enough and wants to double council tax on empty homes.
Boris Johnson agrees that the Empty Homes Premium is a good thing. In a mayoral answer to Darren Johnson, he says one of his deputies will be writing to the councils who haven't yet levied the extra charge and advising them to do so.
Photo by joeppo from the Londonist Flickr pool