The TimesCouncils ignore powers to take control of empty homes
Powers designed to help English councils to take control of empty homes were used only nine times last year, despite there being more than 200,000 long-term vacant properties.
In London, where there is fierce debate over the number of homes owned by international investors that are left empty for much of the year, no applications were made, even though there are 19,845 empty homes.
Councils were given the power to make “empty dwelling management orders” in 2006 under the Labour government in an attempt to make it easier to take control of properties that had fallen into disuse. The order enables a local authority to take control of a house if it has been empty for two years or more.
The number of homes lying empty in England has dropped by 36 per cent in the past decade, but there were 200,145 homes that had been vacant for at least six months last year, equivalent to £43 billion worth of housing stock.
Despite this, only nine seizure applications were made in 2016, according to figures collected by James Pendleton, a London-based estate agency.
Kensington and Chelsea, which has the highest number of empty homes of any London borough, at 1,399, has made only one application since the legislation was introduced.
The borough’s empty properties have come under scrutiny since the Grenfell Tower fire. Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, suggested that unused houses in the borough should be requisitioned to house people who had lost their homes in the tragedy.
Lucy Pendleton, co-founder and director of James Pendleton, said: “This is a disgraceful waste of powers given to councils to help to solve the housing crisis. The figures are extremely worrying for England. 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 the use of these powers even more urgent.”
Many local authorities have complained that the powers are too complex to use. The number of applications peaked at 41 in 2012, but has dropped to an average of less than 20 a year, with only 53 made in London since 2006.
The orders have more commonly been used for homes that were abandoned during the recession. The north of England, where streets lay empty during the property downturn, has made 86 seizure applications since 2006, the most of any region.
By Tom Knowles, 15th July 2017