The Poverty and Inequality Commission also suggested the expansion of free school meals and a reduction in the statute of limitation for council tax debt from 20 years to five years as long-term options on how to help tackle the cost-of-living crisis.
The suggestions form part of the commission’s final recommendations to social justice secretary Shona Robison, who commissioned the advice.
Allowing councils to charge up to double the normal rate of council tax on second homes as many do with empty homes would raise around £9.5 million, the commission said.
This would also recover the additional £400 received by second home owners as part of the UK Government’s cost-of-living support package, raising potential large sums in areas such as Edinburgh, Fife and the Highlands.
The commission adds: “In the medium term, the ability to increase council tax would be a tool that councils could use to help manage the impacts of second home ownership in their areas.”
Ministers have also been told they should reform council tax, as the SNP have regularly promised and failed to deliver, alongside a change in emphasis away from enforcement and towards support for those who miss a council tax payment.
The commission also recommends an expansion of free school meals, for ministers to support ‘fuel-buying clubs’ to help those bulk buying fuel such as oil, and providing funding to councils for an additional council tax reduction for disabled people.
Bill Scott, chair of the commission, said the cost-of-living crisis required an “emergency response” on the same scale as the pandemic and called on the UK Government to “step in now”.
He said: “The Scottish Government also has a part to play in limiting some of the harm on those in Scotland, especially as we approach winter and for those in vulnerable groups.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is doing everything possible within our limited powers and finite budget to help address the cost-of-living crisis. However, most of the key policy levers are held by the UK Government, which needs to take urgent action.
“We have allocated almost £3 billion in this financial year that will contribute towards mitigating the increased costs crisis, including the provision of support unique to Scotland, such as the Scottish Child Payment.”