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Last Updated: Monday, 5 February 2007, 14:41 GMT
Empty home 'claimed' by council
council house
There are about 300 empty properties in South Oxfordshire.
A private house has been taken over by a council exercising new powers to claim empty properties for the "benefit of local people".

South Oxfordshire District Council said it has taken over a "wasted home" as the owner of the Berinsfield property, vacant for 10 years, lives in Bristol.

Unless the property is used within the next year, the council can let it out, under empty dwelling management orders.

The council said it was the first time the new laws had been implemented.

Empty Dwelling Management Orders, part of the Housing Act 2004, came into force last year and allow councils to use empty properties to provide accommodation.

I wouldn't like there to be thousands of these
David Ireland

If the owner fails to co-operate with the council, it can act as landlord, and let the home for seven years.

Helen Skillard, head of housing at the council, told BBC News: "We've spent most of 10 years attempting to encourage the owner to bring the property back to use.

"Affordable housing is in short supply - there's a couple of thousand or so wanting a home in the area."

South Oxfordshire District Council has 300 empty properties in its area.

David Ireland, of independent charity Empty Homes Agency, said: "I wouldn't like there to be thousands of these up and down the country.

"I mean my hope is that owners bring their properties back into use without the need for anybody getting involved and indeed there's evidence of that already happening - it's our preferable solution to having to take the order out.

"It's available at the moment to any local authority in England and Wales to use - South Oxfordshire is the first council to do so and any other can do at the moment."

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