Councils need ‘more powers’ over empty homes

FoI figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats expose the extent of empty homes across the country.

empty homes

Councils need tougher powers to bring empty homes back into use – with more than 11,000 homes across the country vacant for at least 10 years, according to FoI figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats.

Though the government has said it would allow local authorities to raise the council tax premium from 50% to 100% to encourage owners of empty homes to bring them back into use, Lib Dem leader Vince Cable calls for a corresponding boost to council resources.

“These homes could be turned into affordable places to live for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. The government needs to urgently review the current system which is clearly not working,” Cable said.

“Councils need to be given the powers and resources to bring empty homes back into use. This must form part of a wider package to tackle the housing crisis, including building more homes on unused public sector land and clamping down on land-banking.”

The FoI responses from some 275 councils which showed 60,000 properties had been empty for two years or more, 23,000 for five years or more, and over 11,000 have stood empty for at least 10 years.

Government data suggests about 200,000 homes have been empty for six months or more – but information on longer-term vacant properties is not routinely published.

The Lib Dem research also showed that just one in 13 councils are making use of empty dwelling management orders (EDMO) – the powers that can be used by local authorities to take over properties that have been empty for at least six months.

Only 19 of the 247 councils in England and Wales that responded had used an EDMO in the past five years.

Of these, six had used one in the past year.

In total, councils returned about 23,000 empty homes back into use, including through direct action and the work of empty home teams.

The areas that responded with the largest number of homes empty for six months or more were Durham with 6,500, Leeds with 5,724, Bradford with 4,144, Cornwall with 3,273 and Liverpool with 3,093.

At the budget, the government announced at the budget that it would try to encourage owners of empty homes to bring their properties back into use by allowing local authorities to increase the council tax premium from 50% to 100%.

However, the charity Empty Homes said at the time that the council tax increase would do little to deter those buying properties as investment as “for a very wealthy buyer spending millions, 100% council tax is not really enough of a disincentive”.

Empty Homes said it would be more helpful if the government carried out a review into why overseas buyers kept their properties empty.

The DCLG stood by the “range of powers given to councils” to bring empty homes back into use – citing the number of empty homes as down by a third since 2010 to its lowest since records began.