Homes left empty for a year will be charged double the rate of council tax from April under plans agreed by the council. And people with second homes in the borough will also have to pay twice as much starting from next year.

Wokingham Borough Council’s Liberal Democrat leaders said the premiums were designed to tackle a shortage of affordable housing by bringing empty homes back into use.

But Conservatives criticised the move as an attempt to make more money out of people who can’t afford to pay.

Liberal Democrat councillor Imogen Shepherd-DuBey – in charge of finance – said the council leaders ‘want to encourage property owners to bring empty homes back into use'.

But Conservative councillor Laura Blumenthal said the plan was ‘a broad brush stroke to try to get as much tax as possible'.

READ MORE: Council to spend £12,000 on council tax clampdown

Homes can already be charged double council tax if they are left empty and unfurnished for two years. But at a full council meeting on Thursday, January 18, councillors voted to reduce that to one year after the government changed the law to allow this in May 2022.

Councillors also agreed that a 100 per cent council tax premium can be charged on homes ‘occupied periodically’ – meaning second homes – from April 1, 2025.

Conservative opposition councillors criticised the plans and abstained from voting on them. Councillor Blumenthal said she worried that people who’ve taken charge of a dead relative’s home, or who are being prevented from selling their homes by an abusive ex-partner, could be caught out.

She said: “When it comes to empty properties empty for a year I’m concerned it’s going to affect those who are grieving or suffering economic abuse.”

She also said it was unclear who would have to pay double for homes occupied periodically.

Conservative councillor Peter Harper said the change in law was designed to help areas where there are a high number of holiday homes, not boroughs such as Wokingham.

He said: “We aren’t just talking about grand mansions owned by the rich and famous. Over half the homes being targeted are bands A to D, which are modest family homes. The owners of these homes will not get twice the service for their council tax.”

But Lib Dem council leader Stephen Conway said exemptions in the law protected the people councillor Blumenthal was concerned about.

And councillor Shepherd-DuBey said the proposals were about addressing a ‘desperate shortage’. She said: “A lot of particularly low-income people are struggling to find properties to rent. Anything we can do to help resolve that problem is I think a good thing.”

There are 478 long-term empty homes and 341 second homes in Wokingham borough, according to government figures.

Wokingham Borough Council says it could raise some £619,000 from around 273 homes left empty for more than a year and less than two years, and £676,000 from 272 occupied periodically for the same length of time.