Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government
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Margaret Beckett urges councils to take a stand on empty homes

Margaret Beckett urges councils to take a stand on empty homes

COMMUNITIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT News Release (047) issued by COI News Distribution Service. 10 March 2009

Councils are being given more support to help them bring empty homes back in to use in the current economic climate, announced Housing Minister Margaret Beckett today.

New guidance is being published with the Empty Homes Agency, setting out the range of strengthened powers local authorities have to deal with the problem of empty homes, including the use of Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs).

While the number of long term empty homes has fallen by nine per cent over the last decade, Mrs Beckett is calling on councils to take firmer action to tackle the blight of empty homes and re-use properties. This could provide a significant contribution to housing supply with new house building falling right now.

The guidance sets out how local authorities can use the tools at their disposal for dealing with empty homes, including:

* Increasing pressure on owners to bring their empty properties back into use. The guidance makes clear councils should try to track down owners of empty properties, for example by placing adverts in newspapers, visiting their home address, or using professional search agencies if appropriate.

* Encouraging local authorities to issue an EDMO as a last resort where other measures have failed, by explaining clearly how they can be used. EDMOs allow local authorities to take over the management, not the ownership, of a property. The guidance shows that even the threat of an EDMO can have a significant impact on encouraging owners to work with councils to bring homes back into use.

* Acting on local residents' concerns and petitions to bring empty homes back into use through a range of powers, including EDMOs. Under the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill going through Parliament at the moment, local people will be able to petition councils to bring empty homes back into use.

Margaret Beckett said:

"Empty homes blight local neighbourhoods and can potentially attract anti-social behaviour. That is why councils must do all they can to bring empty homes in their area back into use.

"I believe that with an increased focus and more consistent approach we can bring more homes back into use. With house building slowing in the current economic climate, that is more important than ever.

"The new guidance helps strengthen the role of councils by setting out the broad powers they have to deal with empty homes, and is part of the range of actions we are taking to support the regeneration of our towns and cities."

Empty homes not only restrict housing supply, poorly maintained empty properties attract vermin, cause damp and other problems for neighbouring properties. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors also estimates that properties adjoining poorly maintained empty properties can be devalued by as much as 18 per cent.

Over the past decade, the number of empty homes in England has declined by nine per cent, thanks to the efforts of Local Authorities such as Birmingham, South Oxfordshire, Manchester and Sheffield. Manchester Council in particular has warned 44 empty homeowners it will issue an EDMO unless they take steps to re-use the property, a proactive action Mrs Beckett wants to see more councils taking, and will be writing to local authorities to make this clear.

Chief Executive of the Empty Homes Agency David Ireland said:

"Local authorities have the power to be great at helping return empty homes to use. Some already are, but with the recession causing more homes to fall empty it has never been more important for all councils to do more. New homes from empty properties can help meet some of the need left by falling house building rates. I'm delighted that the Minister is supporting this guidance and urge local authorities to take her challenge to take more proactive action."

The current Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill going through Parliament at the moment gives local people the power to petition councils to bring empty homes back into use and the Government is also due to bring together local authorities next month to encourage them to take action on empty homes.

Notes to editors

1. The guidance can be found at:

2. Empty Dwelling Management Orders, introduced by the Housing Act 2004, are powers of last resort where owners have no long-term plans for their homes and where voluntary negotiations with owners have failed. Among the protections for owners is the fact the tribunal must be satisfied the dwelling has been unoccupied for at least six months, that there is no reasonable prospect of it becoming occupied in the near future, that, if an interim EDMO is made, there is a reasonable prospect it will become occupied, that the council has complied with their duties.

3. Empty homes account for 3 per cent of the current housing stock. The overall vacancy rate has reduced by 9 per cent since 1997 from 763,234 to 697,055, and reached a peak in 1993 with 764,000 homes lying empty.

4. Regional breakdown of empty homes:

Region                     Total vacant       Total dwellings vacant
                                 dwellings          for more than six
      North East                 43,963             17,595
      North West                 129,073            61,973
      Yorkshire and Humber       92,409             40,996
      East Midlands              62,584             28,485
      West Midlands              72,329             32,534
      East of England            64,054             27,858
      London                     82,327             28,344
      South East                 91,074             33,844
      South West                 59,237             22,099
      England                    697,055            293,728 

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