The Government is to introduce a tax on vacant properties in the September budget, which is likely to take effect next year, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe has announced.
However, data published on Wednesday by the Revenue Commissioners show that the number of vacant properties in the State is significantly lower than was suggested by the results of the recent census.
Mr Donohoe said the Government would introduce a tax on habitable vacant properties in the budget, adding that he hoped it would come into operation next year. He would not be drawn on the level at which the tax would be levied, but said it was “not intended as a revenue-raising measure” but rather one intended to bring unused properties back into use.
He said the new tax would seek to strike a balance between “incentivising owners of vacant habitable residential properties to bring their properties back into use, and ensuring any such tax does not arbitrarily or excessively penalise homeowners for normal temporary vacancy”.
On the back of data collected for the purposes of the Residential Property Tax, the Revenue Commissioners reported there was a relatively low number of vacant properties in the State.
Revenue said 57,206 properties were reported by their owners as being vacant on November 1st last, representing 3.2 per cent of total housing stock. The Department of Finance said a vacancy rate of 2.5-6 per cent “is considered normal in a properly functioning housing market”.
The most frequent reason given for vacancy, according to the revenue’s report, was that the property was “undergoing refurbishment” (22 per cent), “other” (22 per cent) and “holiday home” (20 per cent). A breakdown of “other” category is not available.
Mr Donohoe noted this represented a considerably lower level of vacancy than suggested by the results of the recent census.
Preliminary figures from the census, carried out by the Central Statistics Office in April, reported a total of 166,752 vacant homes nationwide, or 7.8 per cent of the housing stock.
However, this number contains many dwellings that may be unoccupied for a relatively short period of time and a home deemed vacant does not necessarily mean a home is available for reuse or to house other people, the department said in a note.
“The figure should not be used as a proxy for the number of long-term vacant dwellings. The figure is a point-in-time indicator of whether a property was inhabited or not on census night,” it said.
Campaigners and politicians have regularly cited the return of vacant properties to use as a measure that could help to ease the State’s housing crisis.
However, academics and industry figures have said some of those counted as being vacant may be newly built, between short-term lets, tied up in probate legalities, awaiting planning permission or be owned by people living in nursing homes under the Fair Deal scheme.