So how do we bring genuinely empty homes back into use?
Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) are often seen negatively as a coercive means of acquiring a piece of land or property for a larger development of new homes or for infrastructure. However, they can also be a force for good.
Government advice on Compulsory Purchase Order powers is contained within Circular 06/04, which says Section 17 of the Housing Act 1985 gives Local Authorities (LAs) powers ‘to compulsorily acquire land, houses or other properties' to be brought back into use, including empty private homes.
The main uses are outlined here:
to assemble land for housing and ancillary development, including the provision of access roads;
to bring empty properties into housing use;
and to improve sub-standard or defective properties.
Current practice also allows for authorities to acquire land or property compulsorily to dispose of it to the private sector or to Registered Providers. This disposal of land and empty homes back to the private sector should not be allowed.
Local Authorities are not unified in their approach to tackling empty homes and practices differ across the UK.
Wandsworth Council, for example, had applied 17 CPOs for allegedly empty private mid-street homes within twenty years. Whilst other councils never use their CPO powers at all. They even stand back and watch buildings fall-down instead of acting, in some cases, due to lack of resources, cuts to improvement grants and reluctance to do anything possibly seen as uncertain, draconian, and costly once courts get involved.
There are also concerns that council staff sitting in their offices have applied for CPOs, claiming properties were vacant and made actual occupants homeless and destitute for long periods, whilst justifying their CPOs by quoting 'local numbers of statutory homeless'. It is also noticed that wealthy empty property owners are never subject to these empty home CPOs.
Other councils, like Knowsley Council, near Liverpool, have used Empty Dwelling Management Orders. In a video on Youtube about one EDMO by Knowsley Council, Councillor Tony Doyle of Knowsley Council says:
"We received complaints from surrounding neighbours to the property and that's when we contacted the owner to look at bringing the property back into use".
It became clear the owner was unable to renovate the house. The council financed the renovation, Knowsley Housing Trust identified a tenant for it, and the council's investment will now be recouped through rental income. However use of EDMO by councils is very small, perhaps due to the gamble on costs and lack of shared practice.
We are demanding that Central Government listen to Local Authorities across England and ensure:
Proper powers to compulsorily purchase long-term empty homes, where owners refuse to engage, but with more rigorous safeguards to ensure 'empty home' means empty, and allowing for mitigating circumstances of owners, and compassion to unknown occupants who may be vulnerable and unknown to services.
Funding to LAs to renovate CPO empty homes and convert them into council tenancies only.
CPO empty homes are not to be sold back to the private sector where they could be out of reach of homeless families and individuals.
LAs to be given funding and CPO powers for properties and estates of failing housing associations, especially where these are former council estates and homes are being left empty long term.
More funding to councils to renovate EDMO homes, so LAs don't have to gamble on a return through the rent.
Refurbish don't Demolish. Support LAs to refurbish empty homes and prevent needless carbon emissions caused by demolishing.
Stop forcing LAs to build on overcrowded council estates and green spaces where communities socialise as LA are resorting to building on community and Green spaces rather than fixing the empty homes and leaving them vacant.
Grants to impoverished owners so they may be able to convert a house into flats if they don't need every room.
Establish a 'task force' to share good practice and knowledge of utilising empty homes around authorities, as they all currently understand and use their powers differently.": https://www.change.org/p/empty-homes-in-england?recruiter=1216543269&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=psf_combo_share_initial&utm_term=9ddcefa47d464bb197520ec8ccf85a87&recruited_by_id=fe3eb760-e64f-11eb-b4bf-85bc120c5e67&share_bandit_exp=initial-37421486-en-GB