The owners of empty houses and flats and properties in Swindon could be facing a big bill come April.

Swindon Borough Council’s cabinet has approved the idea that council tax on such properties which have lain empty for five years or more could be charged three times the rate of the same property if it was occupied.

The plan is to encourage people to bring empty houses and flats back into use, and will be incorporated into next year’s council budget.

It will have to be passed by both cabinet and the whole council in February or March to be put into action.

The authority’s deputy leader and cabinet member for finance Russell Holland said: “This is a measure to encourage the owners of empty buildings to bring them back into use.

“We need more houses in Swindon, and if empty ones are occupied again, that will be helpful – this isn’t meant to be punitive.”

Coun Holland finds himself in the unusual position of a finance member putting up a tax but hoping he doesn’t make the money. He said: “This isn’t about raising revenue at all.

“There may be a knock-on financial saving some time in the future if more private homes are returned to use, as there could be less demand on the council. But this is very much intended just to encourage people to bring empty buildings back to use."

Last year the Adver reported there were more than 2,000 houses in Swindon that were empty.

Earlier this year, a total 1,476 properties were found by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to be unoccupied and substantially unfurnished.

Nearly 500 were found to have been empty for more than six months, but a borough council spokesman said fewer than 200 had been empty for more than a year.

Labour’s spokesman for housing on the council Emma Bushell said she was pleased by Coun Holland’s proposal, adding: “We’d welcome anything that helps bring back more houses into use in the town.”

The cabinet member for housing and public safety Cathy Martyn was also pleased. She said: “I hope this will bring needed houses back into use.

"We have an officer who can give general advice to property owners on what they can do such as letting a property, and while there aren’t many grants, there are one or two for insulation, and we can give advice on those.”

Landlords can contact Sally Nelson on