Grotesque subsidies granted to owners of second homes | Secondary residences
George Monbiot is absolutely right (second homes are a blatant injustice, yet the British government encourages them, June 23). A decades-long housing crisis has been dramatically exacerbated in tourist areas by Airbnb, and further exacerbated by the ridiculous subsidies, incentives and tax breaks made available to second home owners by successive governments. The owners of two (or more) properties are clearly in a relatively comfortable financial situation; there can be no justification – financial or moral – for the grotesque package of government donations and grants described by Monbiot.
It took years of health warnings and significant tax increases to result in a significant drop in the number of cigarette smokers. As a first step, like the health warnings on a packet of cigarettes, each document / brochure relating to the sale / purchase of a second home should, alongside the usual puff of suction, be kept to wear a clearly visible slogan quoting Monbiot: “a luxury which deprives others of a necessity”.
Linlithgow, West Lothian
George Monbiot is right to protest against the privileges granted to owners of second homes and their impact on the availability of housing. But prioritizing home ownership over other forms of capital potentially has a much larger negative effect. The inheritance tax reduction is already increased by 54% if your home is passed on to your family. Now the government wants to make sure that no one has to sell their house to pay for care. The effect of these measures is to discourage older people living in family homes (full disclosure: I’m one of those lucky people) from downsizing, because then they will have money left that could be taxed or – horror – used to pay worry. This prevents young people with growing families from getting the bigger houses they need. This is not the case for the combined government.
Regarding George Monbiot’s article, it should be noted that one person in Britain owns six large houses. One, for example, Buckingham Palace, has 775 bedrooms and 78 bathrooms. Elizabeth Windsor also has ample space at Windsor Castle. At the same time, there are homeless people in London without a shelter or a bathroom. Surely it is time to look into the question of royal residences and determine what is needed and what is surplus to needs?
Littleborough, Greater Manchester
George Monbiot argues for a review of the impact of second homes on the housing situation. There is another problem that deserves attention, namely the impact of the right to purchase of municipal tenants, which too often results in their homes ending up in the hands of private landlords charging much higher rents than the former owners of local communities.
Work, House of Lords
Following Peter Walker’s letter (June 22) regarding requisitioning of empty wartime properties, the 2004 Housing Act allows local authorities to issue an empty housing management by-law to ensure that empty properties are used for housing. Unfortunately, this regulation is very rarely applied. In Hackney, where I live, the order has never been used, although the borough has over 1,000 empty dwellings, including a three-bedroom house near me that has been vacant for seven years.
Your editorial on second homes (June 21) does not come to the conclusion that it should. Policymakers need to distinguish between a house used as a primary residence and one used as a second home or rented out on a short-term basis.
When building new homes, we have to do this in terms of planning so that vacation homes can be designed as such and “real homes” remain primary residences. If we are to continue to allow existing properties to effectively change class of use from primary residence to second home, then we need to make a tax distinction so that second homes become the underutilized luxury that they are.
Perhaps it is time for English councils to be offered the powers available in Wales to increase the council tax on second homes and cantonment receipts for the provision of truly affordable housing to local people in need; it would be a start, if only very conservative.
We also need to recognize, given the huge wealth inequalities in this country, that a luxury tax may only be a partial solution. If we really want to see one of the 1 million empty and underutilized properties in England put back into service for the 100,000 families in temporary housing, or the 1.1 million on social housing waiting lists, this may require more drastic action and a change in what we build and who we build it for.
Action on empty houses