Around 25,000 second home owners will see their council tax bills double or more next year under plans outlined by the Scottish Government.

Ministers said empowering local authorities to charge a 100% premium on second homes under new legislation should increase the availability of housing.

The move is expected to spur some second home owners to sell up or rent out properties long-term, especially as an onerous new licensing system will apply to short-term Airbnb-style lets from October.

Councils will also be encouraged to spend the extra income from the higher tax bills on affordable homes.

If approved by MSPs, the new measures are expected to come into force in April.

SNP public finance minister Tom Arthur said he wanted “more housing to be used as homes to live in” as well as “a fair contribution to local services from everyone”.

The latest figures show that as of September 2022 there were 24,287 second homes in Scotland, more than a third of them in just three authorities.

There were 3,720 in Highland Council, 3,045 in Argyll & Bute and 2,374 in Fife.

The council tax in all three councils is around £1,400 a year for a Band D home, rising to around £3,500 for a Band H.

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Argyll & Bute has the highest proportion of properties which are second homes, at 6.2%, followed by Na h-Eileanan Siar (5.9%), Orkney Islands (4.8%) and Highland (3%).

Under existing legislation, second homes are given a 50% council tax by default, but councils are able to negate this by varying the discount down to 0%.

In practice, 25 of Scotland’s 32 councils charge 100% council tax on second homes, and seven charge a 10% discount.

Under the new law, the bill would be 200% of the standard council tax charge, mirroring the 100% premium on long-term empty homes.

A second home is defined as a dwelling which is no one’s sole or main residence but which is furnished and lived in for at least 25 days during the chargeable 12 month period.

The Bute House Agreement underpinning the SNP-Green Government includes a pledge to give councils power to make the best use of local housing stock, including second homes.

Mr Arthur said: “We want everyone in Scotland to have an affordable home that meets their needs. While second homes can bring benefits to local economies, we know they can also affect local housing stock, pushing up prices for those looking to buy or rent. 

“That’s why we’re bringing in this legislation encouraging more housing to be used as homes to live in, seeking a fair contribution to local services from everyone.

“Under the Verity House Agreement between the Scottish Government and [council umbrella body] Cosla, we have committed to give councils greater flexibility to meet local needs. 

“This legislation shows how we are putting this into action, giving councils more powers over how housing is used so they can meet local needs and support thriving communities.”

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Cosla resources spokesperson Councillor Katie Hagmann said: “We welcome the ability for councils to take the decision to increase the premium on second homes up to 100%. 

“This means decisions can be made locally by the elected politicians closest to the people in their communities about what best suits local needs and circumstances.

“This is the Verity House Agreement in action, rightly giving councils greater flexibility for local decision-making to meet local need in their communities.

“We look forward to working with the Scottish Government on this and other elements which were consulted on, and see this as an opportunity to further improve the council tax system.”