Evening Standard – 20,000 London’s Empty Homes Un-seized

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Not one of London’s 20,000 empty homes was seized by town halls last year despite the housing crisis.

Official figures showed that the number of properties taken back into use in 2016 was the lowest for more than a decade.

Kensington and Chelsea — scene of the Grenfell Tower fire which left more than 160 families homeless — had the highest number of empty dwellings, at 1,399, of any London borough.

Yet it made just one application to bring an empty property back into use since 2006, the year Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs) were introduced.

Overall, 208 applications were made across the UK, of which 137 were granted. The number of applications country-wide peaked at 41 in 2012 but has fallen to an average of less than 20 a year since then.

Across England, only nine seizure applications for long-term vacant homes were made last year, although government data shows there were more than 200,000 long-term vacant properties.

Only seven London boroughs have made applications in the 11 years since legislation allowed them to. In London, there were 53 applications over 11 years, of which 19 were granted.

The only boroughs to have made applications were Lewisham, Bromley, Hounslow, Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham, Havering and Barking and Dagenham.

Department for Communities figures showed 20,000 homes were empty for more than six months last year.

Lucy Pendleton, director of James Pendleton estate agent, which analysed the figures, said: “This is a disgraceful waste of powers given to councils to help solve the housing crisis.

“It’s even more disturbing to find that applications have dropped to zero in London, where the high cost of living and severe, long-standing imbalance between supply and demand makes these powers even more urgent.”

The boroughs claimed the figures did not reflect the true number of empty homes brought back into use as since 2011 EDMOs have only been used for properties that have been empty for two years and become magnets for vandalism and squatters.

Instead, town halls rely on other measures such as grants to bring homes up to a lettable standard and increasing council tax on empty properties.

Sir Steve Bullock, London Councils’ executive member for housing, said: “Councils are in the front line of addressing the housing crisis gripping our city and, each year, bring hundreds of homes back into use across the capital by more effective means.

“EDMOs are notoriously difficult for councils to obtain and are only available for restricted circumstances so these figures do not accurately reflect the good work councils are undertaking.”

Kensington and Chelsea council said its figures include short-term empty properties like those for sale or being refurbished.

Camden brought back 70 homes into use through other methods between April and December 2015.