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Doubling council tax on Highland holiday homes could rake in £2.8m for cash-strapped council


By Hector MacKenzie

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The Wester Ross village of Gairloch is amongst those which could be affected by any moves to increase council tax for second home owners.
The Wester Ross village of Gairloch is amongst those which could be affected by any moves to increase council tax for second home owners.

PLANS that could see local authorities given the green light to charge double council tax on holiday homes could generate around £2.8m per year for cash-strapped Highland Council.

Figures released in a Freedom of Information request show that there were nearly 4000 Highland homes registered as second homes last year, with the Scottish Government estimating that in some parts of the Highlands, such as the “remote rural” parts of Wester Ross more than one in five homes may be empty for much of the year.

Collectively the council raised £2.8m from council tax payments linked to these holiday homes last year. Doubling that figure could see the council take in up to £5.6m from second home owners.

Backers of the policy change say it could also encourage some second home owners to either rent out their properties to long-term tenants or sell-up entirely, freeing up more homes for year-round residents.

Local MSP Maree Todd said: “Given the challenges that many of my constituents face due to our limited housing stock in the Highlands, I am in favour of the Scottish Government’s proposal to raise council tax on second homes. This will help prioritise homes for permanent residency and support the sustainability of our rural communities.

MSP Maree Todd: Supportive. Picture: Iona MacDonald
MSP Maree Todd: Supportive. Picture: Iona MacDonald
“Although some second homes are used as holiday lets, which can bring economic benefits to local communities and help support the tourism industry, it’s right that we seek to introduce balance. Communities with a lack of permanent residents can often struggle to maintain essential public services, with many already experiencing a decline in school enrolments. Without meaningful intervention now, we risk accelerating depopulation."
- Maree Todd

“Although some second homes are used as holiday lets, which can bring economic benefits to local communities and help support the tourism industry, it’s right that we seek to introduce balance.

“Communities with a lack of permanent residents can often struggle to maintain essential public services, with many already experiencing a decline in school enrolments. Without meaningful intervention now, we risk accelerating depopulation.”

The three Highland districts with the most second homes are Ross and Cromarty with 759, Badenoch and Strathspey with 759, and there are a further 623 in Sutherland,

Ms Todd added: “Importantly, this policy would result in increased revenue for the Highland Council, which could be used to benefit our Highland communities and contribute to affordable housing schemes.

“While there may not be one single solution to the housing challenges facing the Highlands, this proposal is a step in the right direction.”

The proposals come as Highland Council is said to be facing a £108m budget black hole over the next three years, with councillors warning job losses and service cuts are likely.

A finance report considered by councillors at an October 26 meeting confirmed that officials were currently “modelling” the impact that raising council tax on second homes may have on closing the budget gap, along with raising money from other new proposed income sources, such as a “tourist tax.”

Councillor Derek Louden: 'We won't speculate.'
Councillor Derek Louden: 'We won't speculate.'

Cllr Derek Louden, chair of the corporate resources committee at Highland Council, said: “At present we’re waiting to see what, if any, changes are possible to council tax following the First Minister’s announcement. Once we know this, we’ll be in a better position to comment. Until then we won’t speculate.”

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