Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Proposals to bring empty homes back into use

Speaking at the Liberal Democrat party conference in Birmingham Andrew Stunell, the Communities Minister, outlined government plans to bring empty homes back into use.

At a time of a chronic shortage in housing, it was a "crime" that 300,000 properties had been vacant for more than six months, Mr Stunell told the conference.

The government will consult on plans to allow councils local discretion to introduce an extra council tax charge on homes in their area that have been empty for more than two years, through an Empty Homes Premium.

At present, habitable properties are exempt from council tax for the first six months of being left empty, after which it is levied at the standard rate.

Mr Stunell said the policy would be a "nudge to owners to bring abandoned homes back into use" and be "an extra weapon in a council’s armoury in the battle to make better use of our housing stock".

The plan is in addition to the £100m kickstart fund announced last October to provide cash to councils, housing associations and community and voluntary organisations to begin the revamp of empty properties.

Mr Stunell also told the conference that the coalition would work with local authorities to identify areas where "effective homesteading schemes could be delivered to rejuvenate local communities".

The Minister said that homesteading – where empty homes are brought back into use through self-renovation – had proven successful internationally, "for instance in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, and also back here in the UK, such as in Benwell in Newcastle".

The government is due to publish its Empty Homes Strategy in the autumn, which will include a raft of initiatives to tackle the long-standing problem.

The Empty Homes Network (EHN) set out its views on the proposed national Empty Homes Strategy in a letter to DCLG in July 2011. The EHN called for the government to really get over to local authorities the importance of using the New Homes Bonus to invest in empty homes work.

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