Empty homes come under fire

17 Feb 00
The government was this week accused of being the country's most wasteful landlord as new figures show that almost one in five public sector properties is empty.

18 February 2000

According to figures published by the Empty Homes Agency on February 14, the number of empty houses in England rose by 19,100 last year to 772,300 – the first rise since 1993.

While the largest number of empty properties (636,800) is in the private sector, this only represents 3.9% of private stock. By comparison, 19% of houses owned by government departments and other central public sector bodies are vacant. The Ministry of Defence has 21% of its properties reportedly unused.

According to the agency, an independent body funded by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the number of empty council houses rose slightly from 81,700 to 83,900 (2.6% of local authority stock). Housing associations' vacant properties rose from 29,300 to 32,600 (2.7%).

The agency described both sets of figures as worrying at a time when the rate of council stock transfers to registered social landlords is increasing.

Ashley Horsey, chief executive of the Empty Homes Agency, called on the government to help local authorities 'tackle this blight at a time of national housing shortage'.

Measures should include ensuring all councils have a corporate empty property strategy as part of Best Value and giving authorities discretionary power to charge full council tax on empty homes where owners are making no attempt to bring them back into use.

Paul Lautman, head of housing at the Local Government Association, said many councils already had excellent strategies in place, but the LGA shared the agency's concern about utilising all available homes.

He doubted whether stock transfers had much effect on the number of empty council houses. 'Homes which are transferred are generally better stock which is in demand,' he said.


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