Page last updated at 13:33 GMT, Monday, 22 December 2008

Ministers pressed on empty homes

Houses
VAT has already been cut on properties unoccupied for two years

Government action is needed to free up more than 750,000 empty houses for homeless people, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has said.

England has 1.7 million on housing waiting lists, the Local Government Association says. About 72,000 are homeless or in temporary accommodation.

The surveyors' body wants VAT cut from 15% to 5% on building work to encourage landlords to rent out housing.

The government says it is taking action and empty home numbers are falling.

The Royal Institution (Rics) said there were about 762,635 properties in England not being used.

It said that while the government had announced a raft of measures to help homeowners avoid having their properties repossessed, little was being done to help the homeless.

Thousands of homes should not be allowed to stand empty while people are homeless or suffering from poor living conditions
James Rowlands
Rics

Local authorities have powers to issue Empty Dwelling Management Orders on properties that have been vacant for at least six months.

But Rics' housing spokesman Ian Perry said the system should be simplified, so local authorities could take quicker action against people who left homes empty and in poor condition.

The surveyors' body also said it needed to make it more attractive for the owners of empty properties to rent them out.

The government has already cut VAT for properties that have been empty for more than two years, but Rics said it now needed to go further.

Community involvement

Policy officer James Rowlands said: "Thousands of homes should not be allowed to stand empty while people are homeless or suffering from poor living conditions.

"The government must use all its powers to bring these homes back into use by reducing VAT on repair of buildings and reinforcing council powers.

"Rather than allowing homes to sit empty, everyone should be able to celebrate Christmas in a home of their own."

Rather than coming up with a myriad of complex schemes, which often contradict each other, it's time for the government to take decisive action to solve this housing crisis
Grant Shapps, shadow housing minister

A Communities and Local Government spokesman insisted action was being taken to reduce the number of empty homes in England, which has been cut by 12% since 1997, when Labour came into power.

"We have strengthened the powers of local authorities to deal with empty homes where discussions and other voluntary measures with owners have failed to work, including as a last resort the use of Empty Dwelling Management Orders, to allow councils to bring homes back into use without forcing a change of ownership," he said.

"We also want to give people more say over their local communities, as well as more ways to get involved, including the power to petition councils to bring back empty homes into use."

Shadow housing minister Grant Shapps said the government was not doing enough.

"The fact that there are over three quarters of a million empty properties in this country, yet at the same time 130,000 children will be homeless this Christmas, should make ministers think very carefully about how their housing policies have failed an entire generation," he said.

"Rather than coming up with a myriad of complex schemes, which often contradict each other, it's time for the government to take decisive action to solve this housing crisis," he added.

In London, Mayor Boris Johnson is spending 60m bringing the capital's 84,000 empty homes back into use and aims to reduce long-term empty homes to 1% of London's total housing stock.

Last month, the Empty Homes Agency charity urged the public to inform councils of properties which had been unoccupied for six months to allow them to take action.

Meanwhile, the government is bringing forward 775m in spending on housing and regeneration projects to help the construction sector.

Print Sponsor


SEE ALSO
Councils to take over empty homes
24 Jun 06 |  Moneybox

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific