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Page last updated at 14:20 GMT, Saturday, 22 March 2008

Cash boost call for empty homes

Bob Howard
BBC Radio 4's Money Box

Councillor David Horton outside an unused property
Councillor Horton believes EDMOs could be used for 40 York homes

Councils need more money to tackle the problem of empty private homes warns the housing charity Shelter.

Local authorities in England and Wales were given powers to take over and rent out properties which had been empty for at least six months back in June 2006.

But official figures show only eleven Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs) have been issued so far.

The government insists the threat of facing an order has persuaded many owners to occupy a property.

EDMOs allow councils in England and Wales to take control of a private property for up to seven years if it has been empty for at least six months.

These are properties which could be made habitable for people to live in
York Labour councillor David Horton

It is estimated that around 280,000 properties in England have been unoccupied for that length of time.

When the orders were introduced, the government predicted that they could help bring a thousand properties a year back into use.

But according to the Residential Property Tribunal Service, which grants the orders, only eleven have so far been issued.

Limited resources

Shelter campaigned for EDMOs to be introduced, but told BBC Radio 4's Money Box programme that it fears the number of properties brought back into the rental market will remain small unless the government acts.

"Local authorities say to us they simply do not have the money or the capacity to really pursue the empty homes strategy," said Shelter's deputy director of policy and campaigns Caroline Davey.

"They are not being given the dedicated funding by central government to do that," she added.

The City of York has 585 private homes which have been empty for more than six months but has not yet used its EDMO powers.

York Labour councillor David Horton told Money Box he believes EDMOs would be appropriate for an estimated 40 properties in the town, and is frustrated that no action has been taken.

"We are short of properties in York," he said.

"These are properties which could be made habitable for people to live in," he added.

The Council - which is controlled by the Liberal Democrats - says it lacks resources to enforce EDMOs and already has sufficient powers to deal with empty homes.

Renovation costs

Hounslow Council was the first council in London to be granted an EDMO in July 2007 on a 3 bedroom house near Heathrow airport.

The council is in the process of renovating the property, which is expected to cost between 70,000 and 80,000.

The evidence on the ground is that it is working
Housing minister Ian Wright

The council has received a grant from the Greater London Authority of 15,000 towards the work and hopes to earn back around 950 a month in rental from the property.

Some councils say just the threat of an EDMO has been enough to persuade home owners to bring their properties back into occupation. Manchester City Council estimates this has resulted in 40 empty homes in its area being brought back into use.

Housing minister Ian Wright insisted that, despite the low number of EDMOs issued so far, the powers have been a success:

"What we were always clear about is that this would be a power of last resort.

"The evidence on the ground is that it is working," he told Money Box.

The minister said there were no plans to give councils extra funding to help them take advantage of the EDMO legislation.

BBC Radio 4's Money Box was broadcast on Saturday, 22 March 2008 at 1204 GMT.

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