Lib Dems force action on empty houses

Research by Liberal Democrats in 2018 identified over 11,000 homes that were empty for over ten years. Vince Cable called it a “national scandal”, at a time when “the homelessness crisis is worsening”. Statistics also show that across the country houses empty for six months or more equate to more than 200,000.

Every now and then we have governments making promises to do something about this, but in practice, they have done little to tackle this problem. MP’s reported, last year, that more than 78,000 families were living in temporary accommodation in England alone.

The Liberal Democrats have taken the lead on this. They have today claimed victory as the Conservative government bowed to pressure to take decisive action on empty houses, by giving new tax powers for councils.

The government has accepted the principle of an amendment from Lib Dem Peers (Baroness Pinnock and Lord Shipley) to set in place an escalator of council tax charges. This would mean that the longer a property was left empty, the more council tax would have to be paid.

Last week Lib Dem leader, Vince Cable called for an increase in council tax for properties that have deliberately been left empty as part of a wide-ranging keynote speech on tackling the country’s housing crisis.

Liberal Democrat Housing Spokesperson, Wera Hobhouse said:

“I am glad to see the government have listened and accepted the Liberal Democrat amendment in the House of Lords.

“The introduction of escalator payments would be an important step in tackling the housing crisis, and I hope to see more of our proposals taken forward.

“The housing crisis is a human crisis. With thousands of people unable afford a home of their own, trapped in temporary accommodation or worse sleeping on the street, it is long overdue that action was taken.”

Liberal Democrats Lords Communities and Local Government Spokesperson Kath Pinnock said:

“Bringing more empty properties into use helps families in desperate need of a home but also saves precious green belt land from development.”

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9 Comments

  • Helen Dudden 4th Jul '18 - 10:49pm

    It’s time to look at all empty buildings. High Streets, contain empty properties, could they be used as a temporary measure? Housing should not just be a money making venture. I had noticed in Bath some very expensive property recently completed up for high cost rental. Were these properties needed, or built as an investment?

  • Paul Reynolds 4th Jul '18 - 11:20pm

    I have read the press releases and more in depth news stories and I have not yet seen LibDems describe ‘the problem’ of empty homes. WHY are residential properties empty long term, some for 5 years and 11,000 for 10 years ? WHY do councils not use the EDMO powers they have to tackle empty homes ? Perhaps someone more knowledgeable about the detail of LibDem policy can clarify. Our policies are higher taxes on empty homes and confiscation powers. Weare saying that we want to bring these homes into use for the homeless. But how many such properties are suitable for that ? I assume we do know why they are empty. On that assumption we should say WHY we think applying multiples of the current rate of council tax will lead to empty houses being used to house the homeless. The focus should obviously be on 60,000 houses empty for 2 years or more. Focusing on 200,000 empty for 6 months is futile and could lead to injustices; according to local authority data they are mostly properties being renovated, those involved in probate, those on the market for sale, those involved in divorce complexities, and those at the margins of habitability, for example… remembering that data gathering by councils can be haphazard and difficult. No doubt we have done our homework here. Can someone help me on this ?

  • Tahir Maher Tahir Maher 5th Jul '18 - 6:47am

    @Paul I will follow your question up and see if I can get a response from HO

  • William Fowler 5th Jul '18 - 7:25am

    Some changes to the capital gains system for main residence might help, if you rent out then you are liable for CG even if you only own one house and are, for instance, living elsewhere for work, so be very tough on empty properties except where it has been declared as the main residence (which will need a change at council level to access this tax info). In Spain, if you own a property but is is not your main residence you pay an extra tax on it that assumes you have a rental income even if empty, something like that might also work.

  • John Marriott 5th Jul '18 - 9:47am

    It’s largely the fault of the ‘Property owning Democracy’, or should that read the ‘Multiple properties owning Democracy’? I just wonder how many former council properties, flogged off for derisory sums under the ‘Right to Buy’ scheme ended up in the private rental market? (A bet some LDV fan has the answer.)

    Even filling all the empty homes won’t solve our housing crisis; but it would be a start. William Fowler’s Spanish example gives food for thought, as do the suggestions from Paul Reynolds. The latter is correct when he says we should be careful where we set the bar regarding the length of time that a property is vacant; but clearly some landlords are just taking the p…..

    And what about land on which planning permission exists being left until house prices reach the right level? Why should developers be allowed extensions to permission? Five years tops, otherwise the land is compulsorily purchased by the council or possibly some other government body charged with facilitating house building?

    Then there are the nimbys, who come up with the most amazing reasons for opposing house building in their area and I don’t just mean having that meadow at the foot of your garden adulterated by bricks and mortar. As a Planning Officer used to tell us when I sat on our local District Council Planning Committee; “Nobody is entitled to a view.”

  • Forty percent of homes sold under Right to Buy now in the hands of private landlords, new analysis reveals

    Fresh calls for controversial policy to be suspended as thousands of homes for low income families are privatised

    https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/right-to-buy-homes-sold-private-landlords-latest-figures-rent-a8098126.html#comments

    As of Friday 8 December 2017.

  • @ Paul – in response to your question Paul I contacted Baroness Pinnock and her response is shown below:

    This is not a policy paper but an amendment to a Government Bill currently going through the Lords.

    The purpose is a financial incentive for owners of homes that are empty for 2 years or more to bring them back into the housing market either by sale or rent. It is not for homeless families but will add to the stock of housing available for families/individuals.

    Since 2011 there has been a 50% “premium” on Council tax for homes left empty for 2 years or more.

    The current Government Bill was to increase this to 100%.
    We proposed to change this to 100% for 2-5 yrs; 200% 5-10; 300% 10+ years.
    The idea is that the premium increases with the length of time empty. Govnt and Lab now support the proposal.

    There are exemptions for people in armed forces, in residential care, in prison etc.
    Imposing the premium is at the discretion of individual councils.

  • Helen Dudden 6th Jul '18 - 8:09pm

    Quite a few of the new builds, in Bath go to investment buyers. You can see the Riverside properties for rental on many sites. There will be more, as the other developers of extremely expensive property complete and add too. Not for anyone without a very large amount of funds to invest.
    I still feel, building in Bath is either adding to the student builds, more hotels and not forgetting the upper end of the housing market.

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