Councils failing to use seizure powers despite 200,000 empty homes amid housing crisis

Councils are not taking advantage of powers to seize empty homes in England despite the housing crisis, an agent has claimed.

Local authorities have had powers to use Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMO) since 2006, but research by London agent James Pendleton shows there were just nine seizure applications submitted in England last year compared with 200,145 long-term vacant homes.

Using Ministry of Justice and Department for Communities and Local Government data, the analysis showed the number of applications for EDMOs peaked at 41 in 2012 but has slid to an average of less than 20 a year since then.

There have been 208 applications in total, with 137 accepted.

Councils in the north have made the most applications at 86 with 68 accepted, while the midlands has performed worst with only ten in 11 years, of which six were accepted. There has not been a single application across the whole region since 2012.

London ranks second with 53, followed by the east of England with 45 and the south with 14 and 12 accepted.

In London the picture last year was even more dire, with zero council seizures despite latest figures showing 19,845 homes sitting empty for more than six months over the year.

Only seven of the 32 London boroughs have made any applications for EDMOs at all in 11 years.

The only boroughs to have made applications are Lewisham, Bromley, Hounslow, Kensington & Chelsea, Hammersmith & Fulham, Havering and Barking & Dagenham.

Kensington & Chelsea – scene of the Grenfell fire – had the highest number of empty homes, 1,399, of any London borough last year and has made just one application since 2006.

Only 53 applications have been made by London authorities since the power took effect, while 19 have been granted.

Lucy Pendleton, director of James Pendleton, said: “This is a disgraceful waste of powers given to councils to help solve the housing crisis.

“EDMOs should be seen as a crucial tool in a country where so many families and first-time buyers are struggling to get on the housing ladder or move to suitable accommodation.

“The figures are extremely worrying for England. It’s even more disturbing to find that applications have dropped to zero in London, where the high cost of living and severe, long-standing imbalance between supply and demand makes use of these powers even more urgent.”

The figures come as Government figures have found empty property numbers are at their highest level in 20 years, with 1.4m homes lying vacant, having been left empty for at least six months.

Mark Scott, a specialist in residential property at law firm Blake Morgan, said owners of vacant properties should be encouraged to make more use of them.

He said: “This could be achieved by offering a tax incentive, perhaps for letting the property out, or making it available for use by local authorities or housing associations in emergency situations.

“Another incentive would be a refund of Stamp Duty, in part, if the property is sold within a certain timescale.

“This might discourage owners from simply sitting on properties and waiting for the value to increase.”

Others have suggested passing the empty building over to a property guardianship company, who then let it out to keyworkers, charity workers and public sector workers.

Tim Lowe, founder of Lowe Guardians, said: “Property Guardianship has had a lot of bad press.

“Five to ten years ago, it was very ‘alternative’. But it is now becoming increasingly popular among working professionals of all ages, people who want interesting, well located accommodation with a strong community feel.”

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