OWNERS of Worcester homes left empty for more than two years could soon have their council tax bill doubled, to tackle the city's housing shortage.

Worcester City Council wants to increase the amount it charges by 100 per cent from April for homes that have been empty for more than two years.

The council currently charges an extra 50 per cent on top of the normal council tax bills for homes which have been empty for more than two years.

The government recently changed the law to help reduce the number of empty homes across the country and gave councils the power to raise council tax for those that have been unoccupied for more than two years.

However, the decision on whether to apply the charges remains with the council based on housing need and the number of long-term empty homes.

There are currently 101 homes in Worcester which have been empty for more than two years, of which 21 have been empty for more than five years and 14 have been empty for more than a decade.

Councillor Marc Bayliss, leader of the city council, said: “With the real need for extra housing in the city, I think this is good news and I am glad the government has taken further action in this regard. It sounds like a useful mechanism to bring houses into use.

“The other issue is that, in my experience, these long term empty, and particularly these very long-term empty properties, are also at risk of dereliction and they are a blight to the communities in which they are based.

“There is a real issue of encouraging owners who just board up properties and forget about them to actually do something about them.

“There is more than just a bit of money coming in from this and it will actually force the hand of some people to address those problem properties which can be a real problem."

Cllr Joy Squires said the move was “very welcome” and would be an incentive for owners to finally do something with an empty property.

The council said the increased charges would not be used to penalise homeowners who are battling to sell or rent out in a struggling housing market.

Doubling council tax for empty homes would bring in an extra £68,000 for the council if the number of empty homes remained the same, but the council reiterated its priority remains to cut the amount of long-term unoccupied homes.

The city council would keep around 11 per cent of the money it brought in from the increased charges with the rest divided between the county council, fire service and police.

The change in law would also allow the council to increase charges in the future by an extra 300 per cent for homes empty for more than 10 years by 2021, and 200 per cent for homes empty for more than five years by 2021.

A final decision on the plan will be made when the full city council meets on February 19.