Edinburgh’s empty business premises to get tax hike

Friday November 24th 2023


Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Donald Turvill

Owners of empty business premises in Edinburgh are set to be hit with a tax hike as part of a drive to bring vacant buildings across the capital back into use.

Changes to non-domestic rates exemptions were passed by councillors this week in a move which could bring in over £13 million in additional income for the local authority.

From April next year shops, offices, hospitality businesses and most non-residential properties across the capital unoccupied for more than three months will no longer be given tax discounts.

It comes after the Scottish Government handed new powers to councils allowing them to adjust empty property relief.

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The city council’s Labour finance chief Cllr Mandy Watt said she hoped hiking charges would help to revitalise the city by “getting buildings back into use, stimulating the economy and reducing the impact on surrounding properties of buildings sitting empty for long periods of time”.

There are currently around 1,800 non-domestic vacant properties in Edinburgh, of which just over 50 are council-owned.

The figures were contained in a report to the Finance and Resources Committee, where the new measures were unanimously agreed by councillors on Tuesday.

Non-domestic rates, also called business rates, are calculated based on the rental value of a property and help to fund local services.

Currently, owners of empty business premises get a 50 per cent tax discount – known as empty property relief – for the first three months of it being unoccupied.

Under the revised scheme, the council will get rid of a reduced 10 per cent relief applied thereafter, requiring landlords to pay full business rates from month four.

And some types of non-domestic properties such as listed ones and those with a rental value of under £1,700 which at present are entitled to 100 per cent relief will have to pay rates for the first time if a building is vacant for over 13 weeks.

Neil Jamieson, the council’s head of customer services, told Tuesday’s meeting he anticipated some businesses “will simply pay it” and others “may not”.

He said the authority will seek to engage with all empty property owners in the city ahead of the changes coming into effect in April.

“We’ve given ourselves four months to have that conversation with them so we’re very clear what the impact of this will be.”

Estates Manages Peter Watton said the plans have sparked a “renewed focus” within the council to prioritise making use of its own empty buildings.

He said: “There are a number of properties that are vacant and are due to be demolished for redevelopment…but they’re all in the pipeline. So every one of those 54 has got a plan.”

A report to the committee said: “The future occupation and active use of these properties will deliver economic, social and cityscape benefits.

“The potential net increase in billable liability for these properties is estimated at over £13.8m, with billing and recovery activities to be progressed in the normal way.”

Whilst expected to bring a cash boost to the council, Cllr Watt said the move “wasn’t principally about generating revenue, welcome though it is”.

She added: “It’s about getting buildings back into use, stimulating the economy and reducing the impact on surrounding properties of buildings sitting empty for long periods of time.”

Edinburgh Council was contacted for comment.

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