FLOOD victims who are unable to live in their homes could soon be entitled to reduced Council Tax bills.

Ministers have announced plans to give councils across North Yorkshire discretionary powers to reduce bills.

Unless all the furniture has been removed, flood victims still have to pay full Council Tax at present - even though water damage has made their home uninhabitable.

This is despite the fact they may also be paying Council Tax on their temporary accommodation.

Yesterday, Local Government Minister Nick Raynsford said the Government was aware there may be circumstances where people find themselves the owner of a second home or property which are "beyond their control".

He said that, in this instance, councils should be allowed to consider Council Tax "exemptions".

Ministers are consulting on how much the discount should be. Mr Raynsford also announced proposals to allow councils to impose financial penalties on landlords who leave homes standing empty. At present, landlords and homeowners are entitled to a 50 per cent Council Tax discount for properties which are unfurnished and classed as "long-term empty".

Mr Raynsford described this as a "perverse incentive" to keep the homes out of use.

In future, councils will be given the option of reducing the level of the discount - or stopping it altogether.

The Minister added: "Homes left empty for long periods can blight local communities and encourage crime and antisocial behaviour."

He also confirmed proposals which were originally announced last year to give councils the power to end the 50 per cent Council Tax relief on second homes.

Updated: 10:17 Saturday, November 24, 2001