SPECIAL REPORT: Tackling the issue of homes left empty in South Holland
In last week’s budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond vowed to get tough on the blight of homes left empty across Britain.
He unveiled new legislation to give councils the power to charge a 100 per cent council tax premium on premises left empty.
According to figures given to the Spalding Guardian the latest count (as of September this year) is that there are 264 empty homes in South Holland.
That could be enough properties to make up a small village.
The figures were revealed after a request by the Spalding Guardian following a campaign by the Empty Homes Agency, a national charity to raise awareness of the ‘waste of long-term empty homes’ in Britain.
While it’s not known exactly where the empty homes are in South Holland these are properties that are privately owned.
There are a number of reasons why homes are recorded as empty
MP for South Holland and the Deepings, John Hayes, welcomed news that the budget would give extra power to councils to tackle the issue of properties left unoccupied.
He said: “Why should people pay less council tax to leave a house empty?
“The Empty Homes Agency estimates that there are hundreds of thousands of homes left empty across the country.
“But in addition to those that are empty there are also buildings that could be used to home people - such as flats above shops.
“They could house a single person or a young couple. One of the key things about housing is that housing needs change over your lifetime.
“Most people start with a relatively modest home, but with children those needs change and then as you get older you downsize.
“Housing needs change a lot.”
According to background information provided via South Holland District Council, the number of empty homes reported this year has increased from 232 last year.
But one of the reasons for these numbers is due to new housing developments where properties have been on sale for a number of months before they have sold and become occupied.
Another reason is due to people being removed from homes where properties are sub-standard while work is carried out to bring them up to a satisfactory standard for re-occupation.
And then there are homes where the owner has died and they are left empty while the deceased’s estate is being sorted out.
The Private Sector Housing Team at South Holland District Council has been endeavouring to reduce the number of empty homes by working with owners and where necessary taking enforcement action against people “who appear to have no intention in bringing those properties back into use.”
Under Council Tax regulations in a new build, once a property has reached a certain stage in its build, regulations state that it is reasonable to expect that a property can be completed within a three month period.
The district council says that officers are being more proactive in issuing Completion Notices in order to get properties onto the valuation list. However, the properties may be on sale for a number of months before they become sold and occupied which increases the figures of the number of empty homes.
The team has also been working in tackling poor standards of accommodation in the private sector. A number of prohibition orders have been served where properties have been ‘sub-standard’ and the occupiers deemed to be at risk if they were to remain in the property.
While it can be a quick process to remove someone from the risk of harm in such a property, the team then has the task of ensuring the house is of a satisfactory standard for re-occupation, which can be a lengthy process.
This is especially tough if the owners do not have the available funds or intention of bringing the property up to the Decent Homes Standard. It can result in further notices being served and owners being prosecuted.
In the case of homes being unoccupied where the owner has died, probate can take a very long time. The district council reports one case of a ten-year delay, or where the estate is in dispute.
These properties are exempt from Empty Homes Legislation but the council can ensure that these homes are made safe, even though unoccupied.
○ It might seem surprising that there are so many empty homes in South Holland while there are people classed as homeless.
But homelessness is a complicated issue and the council says it cannot simply requisition homes which are empty. The matter of Compulsory Purchase is a long and expensive process.
The district council’s Private Sector Housing Team works on building relationships with private landlords but is aware that not all private landlords are willing or able to engage with homeless families or individuals.
According to Shelter, there are currently four people recorded as sleeping rough or homeless in South Holland.
The district council says its most recent statistics are that homeless application decisions from April to August 2017 were 58 and it made 219 homeless preventions over the same period.
It records four single people and one couple currently in B&B accommodation and 29 in temporary accommodation. However, the figures are not thought to include those ‘sofa surfing’.