Empty homes are being left to rot because councils face overly complex and expensive Compulsory Purchase legislation.
According to government statistics there are over 700,000 empty properties in England alone. About a third of these have been empty for six months or more. Bringing them back into use would account for around two and a half years of new build homes at the current rate of housing completions.
Yet the most recent figures show less than 100 planning and housing CPOs were submitted in a year. Some properties have lain empty for a decade or more.
Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) are used by councils to revive land or buildings that have gone to seed. Used as a last resort they can bring long-term empty homes back into use where other offers of support, assistance and funding have failed.
However, the current system, says the LGA, is a costly, overly complex and bureaucratic process that in some cases can take up to 18 months to carry out. Councils even have to seek Secretary of State Approval for a CPO on a long-term empty property.
Now the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 373 councils in England and Wales, is calling for the system to be simplified and extended to enable councils to use CPO powers more effectively. This includes removing unnecessary requirements to seek permission from Whitehall.
In new proposals, councils should be able to acquire time-limited leaseholds, enabling them to undertake refurbishment work to properties and bring them back into habitable states. Local authorities could then recoup their investment through rental income over the set time period, and even acquire nomination rights, returning the properties back to their owners at the end of the lease, says the LGA.
The LGA is also calling on central government to remove the requirements that local authorities pay compensation on long-term empty properties (currently 7.5% of the property value, up to £75,000) and enable them to formally share costs and liabilities with a third party.
LGA Lib Dem Group Spokesperson Cllr Keith House said:
“Empty homes could be brought back into use if the Government overhauled the antiquated and utterly inefficient compulsory purchase system.
“During one of the worst housing crises this country has faced, with demand at sky-high levels, councils are being hamstrung. It is high time they were given proper compulsory purchase powers, enabling them to ‘revive’ properties that are simply gathering dust.
“Councils are working with property owners to encourage homes that have lain empty over a long period of time to be brought back into use. This includes funding and loan schemes for major repairs, advice and support and incentive schemes. Where these offers have failed the Compulsory Purchase system has the potential to help bring a home lying empty back into use.
“The CPO process was not designed with empty homes in mind and can be both difficult, time consuming and expensive to use. Reducing financial costs and risks for local authorities would support increased use as well as new powers to allow councils to lease the property and bring it back up to habitable standard.
“The demand for all types of housing continues to increase and we are collectively failing to keep up with demand. Bringing empty homes back into use is one part of the solution to helping people access the homes they need.”
2 115,620 completions in the 12 months to December 2012 https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/86119/House_Building_release_-_December_Qtr_2012.pdf
3. The most recent data shows that 90 planning and housing CPOs were submitted in 2011. http://www.compulsorypurchaseassociation.org/files/CPO-report-July-2012.pdf
– A three bedroom house in Birmingham was left empty after the death of the owner. The garden was overgrown and infested with rats, bringing complaints from the neighbours and blighting the surrounding area. In this case the owner left a will and appointed an executor, but the executor did not take any action with the property. The Council first contacted the executor in 2003 but despite repeated requests the property remained empty and continued to deteriorate. After 5 years the council sought authority for a compulsory purchase order (CPO), which was granted in 2008. The property was sold at auction and is now in use as a family home.
– A probate case in Reading involved two sisters who left their late mother’s house empty for 10 years after her death, although keeping it in good order. The daughters were reluctant to engage with the council and address the issue of what to do with their mother’s house, finding the prospect of selling it too daunting on an emotional and practical level. Some sensitive advice from the Council on the options for selling brought them to a decision to sell the property, knowing that it could be sold to someone who would care for the property and use it as a family home.
Blaby District Council