THE Liberal Democrats have announced plans to allow councils to increase council tax on empty homes by up to 500 per cent.

The party announced plans to tackle Brighton’s housing crisis by giving Brighton and Hove City Council the power to ramp up council tax fees on vacant houses if elected on December 12.

The Lib Dems say they would let councils increase council tax fivefold on homes left empty by their owners for more than six months.

The money made from the extra tax would then be spent on building new homes or investing in council services.

According to Government statistics from last year, 779 homes in Brighton and Hove have been left vacant for more than six months.

Ben Thomas, Lib Dem candidate for Brighton Kemptown, pictured, said renters’ salaries were being “squeezed” by the cost of living in the city.

“We can’t continue to ignore that there are thousands of empty homes that aren’t helping to relieve pressure in the market across the city,” he said. “This proposal will go a long way to help the council in freeing up these homes and generate additional income to build the social housing we desperately need.”

Beatrice Bass, the party’s candidate in Hove and Portslade, said: “Many young professionals move to Shoreham, Worthing or other small towns nearby because they can’t afford to live in Brighton and Hove. They are being priced out of the area because of the high house prices and the rising number of empty homes.

“Wealthy owners are treating these empty properties as financial assets rather than a place to live. This demonstrates a complete lack of regard for the impacts on local people.”

The policy announcement came as the Lib Dems lost a legal challenge for leader Jo Swinson to be included in an ITV head-to-head debate between Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson.