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Havering Council will penalise the owners of more than 6,750 empty houses in an effort to slash its bill for council tax benefit.

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Consultation

The council’s public consultation, which received 295 responses, showed 81 per cent support for the plan to cut benefit for those with second homes.

One anonymous comment read: “Are you kidding? If you can afford to own more than one house, you can afford to pay council tax on all of them.”

“Many people struggle to own one home let alone two,” said another.

But one person suggested inherited properties remain exempt during probate and sale.

And another said they were concerned that taxing empty homes would stop people renovating them.

The changes, which come into force in April, are part of a scheme to save the council £1.8m – a deficit created by the government passing responsibility for the benefit to local authorities. They were voted through at last night’s full council meeting at Havering Town Hall.

Currently, anyone who owns a house that is empty and undergoing major repairs or structural changes doesn’t have to pay council tax for up to 12 months.

In addition, anyone who owns a house that is unoccupied and unfurnished doesn’t have to pay council tax for up to six months.

Both these benefits will be stopped from April, meaning the owners of 6,757 unoccupied homes will generate £1.5m between them – an average of £228 per house, although the actual figure will vary depending on the size and location of the house.

Eighty-nine thousand pounds will also be raised by capping council tax benefit at the top of band D – that’s £28.80 a week. This will affect 562 households who are claiming benefit for properties in bands E to H.

And the borough’s 739 occupied second homes will no longer be eligible for the 10 per cent discount they receive, raising £47,000.

The 715 people in Havering who receive council tax benefit and live with grown-up children or elderly relatives will receive less.

In all, 8,296 households will be affected – about nine per cent of the borough.

You can have your say on Havering Council’s budget proposals for 2013/14 by visiting https://online.havering.gov.uk/officeforms/Budget_2013.ofml and completing the survey.

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