New strategy aims to drive down crime by filling empty houses

Empty homes can attract vandalism.
Empty homes can attract vandalism.

Owners of empty properties in South Holland could be forced to sell then under a scheme that tackles vandalism and anti-social behaviour by improving the appearance of neighbourhoods.

The Empty Homes Strategy was set up by South Holland District Council last year to reduce the number of empty properties and help the level of housing delivery meet demand.

As well as tackling vandalism and anti-social behaviour, it aims to improve the supply of good quality and affordable housing, improve the condition of existing housing stock, maximise council income through a New Homes Bonus (NBS) and improve neighbourhoods.

Councillors will hear how enforcement action could be taken against owners not willing to co-operate at a meeting of South Holland District Council’s Policy Development Panel tomorrow.

A report states: “When an authority decides to take enforcement action, the authority has several options available to it, including compulsory purchase orders, enforced sale and an Empty Dwelling Management Order.”

However, the report states that in the first instance the authority needs to develop an informal systematic approach.

The strategy highlights the annual need for an additional 560 to 600 homes per year across the district.

However, when it was launched, delivery had fallen short of this, with 254 homes built in 2013-14.

The Government has set aside £1bn through the NBS for authorities like the district who get empty properties back into use.

Each ‘unit of reward’ is worth six years of council tax, which based on Band D would total £8,651.82

Since 2013-14, statistics show a rise of 25 empty homes to 325 in 2014-15.

Reasons given include owners have a strong emotional attachment to them and cannot bring themselves to dispose of them, owners are experiencing health issues and complex arrangements relating to the owners’ tax liability.

Bringing them back into use would release capital for the owner if the property was sold or rental income if it was let, reduce the opportunity of vandalism, increase spending in the local economy and protect housing values.

Following council intervention, during the year up to April 2015, 73 empty properties were returned to use. In the period to July, there was a further 29.

The report states: “There is a strong case in favour of ensuring the existing housing stock is appropriately utilised.

“This includes ensuring long-term empty dwellings are returned to use, helping to add to the available supply of housing in the district.”