LibLink: Wera Hobhouse: Solving the housing crisis means using the empty houses we’ve already got

Housing spokesperson Wera Hobhouse has written for the Huffington Post about how a Liberal Democrat amendment passed in the Lords this week will help alleviate the housing crisis.

Politicians have a moral obligation to help solve this crisis, and one part of the process must be bringing empty properties back into use. Of course, we must build more homes – 300,000 per year to be precise – but bringing empty properties back into use is an excellent way in the short-term to help families in desperate need of a home, whilst saving valued green belt land from development. Equally, by bringing empty homes back into use, we can help regenerate struggling communities. After all, regions with the highest number of vacant dwellings are often also the areas that have been left behind in terms of economic growth.

Last year was the first year since the recession that the number of empty homes in England did not decrease. This is unsurprising. Tory Government cuts to local authorities hamper their enforcement capabilities. All dedicated empty homes investment programmes, programmes that my colleagues in Coalition fought tooth and nail for including my predecessor in Bath Don Foster, were severed in 2015. It was a 2010 Liberal Democrat manifesto promise to reduce the number of empty homes by 250,000, and that is something they delivered in Coalition and can be incredibly proud of.

t is clear something must be done. The Liberal Democrats strongly supported the calls to double the council tax on empty homes, but now we have gone one step further. Yesterday in the House of Lords, the Liberal Democrat amendment, which increases council tax the longer you leave it empty, has been adopted and passed by Parliament. There are of course exemptions, for example where a resident is in residential or nursing care or when a member of the armed forces serves overseas for long periods. These premiums on council tax are not statutory. Councils have the flexibility to apply them or not.

On Twitter, Wera suggested that the Tories might just grab the credit for this;

You can read Wera’s whole article here.

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  • William Fowler 21st Jul '18 - 7:51am

    George Osborne changed the capital gains tax rules, now if u go abroad for a couple of years and rent out your property it will be subject to capital gains – there is a good chance that all the rental income will be eaten up by CG tax so no point renting out. Given the prospect of a Corbyn govn giving private tenants almost confiscatory rights there is also the chance you might never be able to get back in the house. So I suspect there are lots of properties that could be rented out but aren’t because it is not worth the hassle/risk. Owners won’t sell because they might not be able to get back in the property market in a few years time for the same money as they sold.

  • @william fowler. “Giving private tenants almost confiscatory rights”.

    There you go again, distorting what was said and echoing the Tory right wing press. As I understand it what is proposed is no different to what is current practice in France, Germany and Spain. The sky high rents, particularly in London and some of the dodgy practices of letting agencies in failing to return deposits is a national scandal……. all of which were consequences of Thatcher scrapping controls in the eighties.

  • @Wera
    ‘using the empty houses ‘we’ve’ already got’
    When did my property become jointly owned. Since when did the LibDems endorse taking private property into public ownership.
    I don’t mind using the tax system to encourage behavior but language is important and if the LibDems become associated with this level of socialism they are moving onto dangerous ground.
    @David Raw
    ‘letting agencies in failing to return deposits is a national scandal’
    I think you are little out of date here. Agents cannot hold deposits. They have to be protected and for the most part they are held by third parties with arbitration processes associated with them. There are plenty of scandals in the property market but this is not one of them any more.

  • Peter Martin 21st Jul '18 - 10:49am

    @ PJ

    You ask “Since when did the LibDems endorse taking private property into public ownership.”

    I’d say the answer was since whenever Lib Dems accepted the concept of general taxation. It means taking something that you’ve earned or created and transferring that to the State. It’s just a matter of how much and when which forms a discussion for debate.

    You might be wary of Georgists like JoeB. He might let you keep your property but he’s got his eye on the land on which it stands.

    He could be coming after you with his Land Value Tax before too long!

  • @Peter Martin
    ‘You might be wary of Georgists like JoeB. He might let you keep your property but he’s got his eye on the land on which it stands.’
    I think this comment is why LVT will be a political mistake. The opposition will beat us up with it. The KISS principle used be very fashionable in business. Might be worth keeping it mind.
    Queue JoeB.

  • @David Raw
    ‘but in the real world……’
    Believe me. I work in this real world on a daily basis. I cannot say that I am party to the working of all unscrupulous agents but there is plenty of protection without going to court, Either your friends were ill advised or did not know their rights and the process surrounding deposits. Of course there is always two sides to a story.

  • Peter Martin 21st Jul '18 - 12:29pm


    Whether or not it’s a mistake depends on your P.O.V. It’s actually quite a good socialist tax. But it isn’t a good tax from the P.O.V. of getting money in.

    Say you have an area of land which is worth a £1million. Joe proposes a 5% LVT which seems reasonable enough. But where is the £1million ? It doesn’t really exist. It’s just a valuation. It’s worth a million because it will, say, yield an income of 5% or £50k p.a.

    But, what happens when you’ve got your 5% tax bill to pay? You are left with nothing which makes it not worth owning! So the value plummets. It’s possible that it could halve to say £500k which means the taxman gets £25k and you get £25 k if the yield is still the same. But that’s unknown.

    It’s better, IMO, to tax the £50k income and properly treat it as such.

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