OWNERS of empty homes face being charged up to 300 per cent extra in council tax as part of a drive to increase the supply of properties and tackle housing blight.

Darlington Borough Council deputy leader Councillor Charles Johnson said the the Council Tax Empty Property Premium initiative, which was introduced by Parliament in 2013 and came into effect in April, would serve as an incentive to push empty property back in to use.

The move by the Conservative-run authority is part of a drive, which was started under the previous Labour administration, to cut the amount of time that owners of empty properties are given exemption from council tax and boost the supply of properties available to rent in the borough.

Currently, a property which has been left empty for more than two years is charged an extra 50 per cent council tax, making a band D charge on such a property £2,722 for this year.

Under the proposals, the council will increase charges for homes left empty for more than two years to 100 per cent of the council tax, making a band D charge on such a property £3,629.

This will rise to 200 per cent additional council tax for properties left empty for five years, and from 2021, an additional 300 per cent for properties left empty for ten years, which equates to £7,258 for a band D home.

Cllr Johnson said while it had been set out in the forthcoming Local Plan that almost 10,000 new homes would be needed in the borough by 2036, there were 165 empty homes in the town, 109 of which had been empty for between two and five years and 28 which had been empty between five and ten years.

In addition, a council study found the areas with the highest proportion of empty properties was not directly linked to those with the most rented homes.

Cllr Johnson said: “Whilst Darlington does not have a significant problem with long-term empty properties, I recognise the blight that these sorts of properties can have on our residents. In addition, I am determined to use all the powers at our disposal to bring these much-needed properties back into use, ensuring we have the housing we need for Darlington residents.”

He said there would be protection for those owners making genuine attempts to refurbish empty homes and bring them back into use. Cllr Johnson, the authority’s efficiency and resources portfolio holder, said while the charges may be viewed as heavy by some, they were one of the few tools the council had to motivate property owners.

The move has received cross-party support. Labour group leader Councillor Stephen Harker said empty properties often were a target for vandalism and crime and could have a negative effect on the neighbourhood and surrounding area.