Scotland business

Empty commercial properties face water service charges

Empty warehouse Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Owners of vacant commercial properties will have to pay water service charges from 1 April

Owners of empty commercial properties will be liable for water service charges from next year, the Scottish government has announced.

The current exemption for vacant non-domestic properties will be removed on 1 April.

Ministers said the extra money it would raise would help maintain the current freeze in business charges.

But the Scottish Conservatives said it was "another attack on the pockets of businesses from the SNP".

The Scottish government announcement followed a public consultation.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said ministers wanted to ensure that the charging regime was "fair for everyone, broadly cost-effective and harmonised".

She added: "The introduction of these charges is on the basis that vacant properties benefit from water and sewerage services and should therefore pay for them.

"It is expected to generate some £15m a year additional wholesale revenue for Scottish Water, allowing business charges to be frozen.

"Without such a move, charges would have to increase by 5% over the period to 2021."

'Tax raid'

Scottish Conservative finance spokesman Murdo Fraser said: "This is another attack on the pockets of businesses from the SNP.

"We should be supporting firms at this tricky time, not penalising them further.

"The Scottish government may say it is 'generating' the extra money, but in truth it's simply another tax raid.

"What's worse, ministers have tried to sneak this news out on the last day of term in the hope nobody notices."

This year has also seen changes to business rates relief on empty industrial property.

Until April, industrial properties received 100% relief from rates as long as they were vacant.

That has now been restricted to the first six months a property is empty. After that, landlords receive just 10% relief.

Two industry bodies recently cited the changes as "a potential cause" for a slump in industrial construction output.

But the Scottish government said business rates relief for empty industrial property remained "more generous" in Scotland than in the rest of the UK.

More on this story