New powers to tax empty homes to raise money for council houses have been welcomed.
Plans for the Council Tax on Empty Homes and Housing Support Grant Bill could apply to the 309 properties which have been lying empty for more than six months in Midlothian and are liable to pay council tax.
If all councils in Scotland decide to use the maximum powers, they could raise up to £30 million per year to spend on building affordable homes.
The Bill will abolish the Housing Support Grant, which was established to subsidise local authorities’ housing budgets by helping pay interest on housing debts.
Launching a consultation on the plans, Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil said: “One way to [increase the supply of affordable housing] is to tackle the problem of empty homes, which are a wasted resource and often also a blight on local communities as they attract vandalism.
“We are proposing to bring forward legislation to allow councils to charge a council tax levy on homes which have been empty for more than six months.”
Shelter Scotland director Graeme Brown said: “With 25,000 long-term private empty homes across Scotland, this is a step in the right direction.
“The ultimate measure of success will be the number of empty homes brought back in to use and the number of new affordable homes built using that income. This is not a quick win. The levy will provide several million in income for councils as part of a long term strategy.”
Midlothian Council leader Derek Milligan (Lab) said: “We will be participating in the government’s consultation process and will prepare a comprehensive response once we have fully considered the implications of these proposals for Midlothian.”
Since launching, 22 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities have signed up to the www.reportemptyhomes.com website, where members of the public are encouraged to report empty homes.