George Monbiot’s article (Second homes are a gross injustice, yet the UK government encourages them, 23 June) and the letters in response to it (The grotesque subsidies given to second home owners, 25 June) give the impression that thousands of holiday home owners are depriving local families of homes. This may be so for those who keep a second home for personal use while it remains empty for much of the year. However, the case against holiday homes is not as simple as it may sound.
On our retirement some years ago, we purchased a derelict building, which had never been a dwelling, and renovated it into a holiday home using our “pension pot”, instead of putting it into investment funds. We employed a local builder and other tradespeople to do the conversion work. It is let to holidaymakers for about 35 weeks a year. The income is, in effect, our pension, and we pay income tax on the rents we receive. We make the property available for up to six weeks a year, including school holidays, at no cost, through a charity that provides free holidays for families in need. We use it ourselves for about four weeks a year.
We pay local people to do the housekeeping for changeovers and for routine maintenance. Although we do benefit from small business rates relief, we still pay for council services such as refuse collection, and we make a voluntary donation to the local parish council. Holidaymakers bring money into the local economy through spending in shops, restaurants, attractions etc.
Yes, it would not be a bad thing for there to be some control, through the use of planning consents, to limit the number of homes that are not permanent residences, particularly in popular holiday areas. But please don’t condemn all holiday homes out of hand. Holiday homes provide a simple and cost-effective way for people to enjoy a self-catering break throughout the year. No doubt thousands of Guardian readers rent holiday homes every year, either in the UK or abroad (where the terms “gîte” and “villa” perhaps make them more acceptable).
The absence of holiday homes would remove this option from many thousands of people every year.
The discussion around second homes is much more complex than George Monbiot and the letters reflect. I know this from my personal experience.
I have been a single mother, worked full time and found myself able to buy a second property with a mortgage as a buy to let. I took a huge financial risk. I rented it out to the local city council, which was able to use it to house the same family for 13 years. I paid for upgrading the house to council standards at a time when I had no money to renovate the house I was living in with my children. We did not have holidays or any luxuries. I invested in property for my and my children’s future. There was no alternative.
I then inherited some money from my mother, who had bought a house in the 1960s. She never had a holiday, went abroad or had any spare cash and always lived frugally. I paid off a mortgage and rented that property to the council, which used it to house refugees.
I paid tax on my earnings from the properties over the last 13 years and did not get wealthy from owning them. I have since sold these two properties and have paid an enormous amount of capital gains tax.
I have no pension to speak of, as I raised a family and had a medium-paid career in the NHS, not enough to provide for me. I now have to wait until I am 67 years before I get a state pension and can finally relax (I hope).
Most people I know who have a second home are not “greedy” landlords, but are simply trying to provide for their family’s future or their own pension.
Lack of council housing, decent wages, savings accounts that actually pay interest and a proper state pension is what has fuelled the housing price rises over the last 40 years. The current government worsened the situation with the recent stamp duty holiday.
Dividing us into the “haves” and “have nots” is not going to solve this problem. Properly thought out and sustainable social policy will.