Johnson challenged over funding for councils to fill empty homes

PM called out over support shown for “tenfold rise” when he was Mayor of London.

Row of empty homes with overgrown gardens

Almost 25,000 homes in London are being left unoccupied, according to the most recent government data – while nearly 57,000 families across the capital are in temporary accommodation.

London’s example is cited in stressing the need for a national initiative on empty homes.

“As Mayor of London, Boris Johnson was vocal in his support of much stronger measures to get to grips with this issue,” said Labour’s London Assembly Housing Spokesperson, Tom Copley.

“Now that he has his hands on the necessary levers of power, he must restore Government funding and devolve much greater powers to local authorities specifically aimed at targeting empty homes.”

Latest MHCLG figures find that as of October 2019, there were 24,677 empty homes across London.

However, the most recent government data, covering the period of April to June 2019, shows that 56,950 households are living in temporary accommodation in London.

From City Hall, Sadiq Khan has worked to address this issue by calling for a rise in Council Tax premiums targeted at vacant homes and by using his powers to clamp down on ‘buy to leave’ property investments through his ‘First Dibs for Londoners’ housing policy.

But while boroughs were trying to tackle the problem, they “desperately need” help from government, said Copley.

Councils currently possess some powers to tackle the number of long-term vacant properties, including the ability to charge Council Tax premiums, implement Compulsory Purchase Orders, and enact Empty Dwelling Management Orders.

Having endured a decade of austerity, there is a recognised need for more Central Government funding and devolved powers to help councils to engage with the scale of the problem.

A report last year from Action on Empty Homes made a number of recommendations of how councils could be better supported by the government.

Among other measures, the report advocates that the government re-establishes dedicated funding programmes to reinforce the efforts of local authorities to create affordable housing from long-term vacant properties.

Action on Empty Homes has also called for the government to adopt a national investment programme, open to community-led organisations, that addresses the underlying causes of high levels of empty homes in the worst affected areas.

Between 2012 and 2015, the then government allocated £156m of funding aimed at bringing empty homes back into use.

This was also boosted by an addition £60m as part of the Clusters of Empty Homes Programme.

However, after 2015, the government stopped investment streams specifically targeted at supporting these schemes.

As Mayor of London, in 2014, Boris Johnson called for a change in the law that would enable councils to implement a tenfold rise in Council Tax charges on properties left empty for over a year.

From April this year, the government is allowing councils to charge a premium on council tax of up to 200%, but only for homes left empty for longer than five years.

“While bringing empty homes into use won’t solve the housing crisis by itself, it’s in everyone’s interests to clamp down on this entirely needless waste and injustice,” said Copley.

But if we are to make any significant progress, local authorities whose budgets have been recklessly slashed over a decade of austerity, desperately need a helping hand from Central Government.”

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