More than 1,000 homes lying vacant in Peterborough

More than 1,000 empty houses in Peterborough should be used to help solve the national housing crisis, campaigners argue.

Sunday, 4th April 2021, 5:00 am
The city council has powers to bring empty homes back into use. Photo: PA EMN-210330-174457001

Action on Empty Homes said it is “exceptionally worrying” that more than half a million homes lie unused across England, while tens of thousands of families are living in temporary accommodation.

The campaign group’s analysis of Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government figures show that 1,107 homes in Peterborough were not being used as of October, up from 751 the year before.

Of these, 909 were long-term vacancies, unoccupied for at least six months, and 198 were second homes.

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This means one in every 79 homes in Peterborough were out of use – though this was below the average of one in 47 across England.

There were 268,000 long-term empty homes across the country – 19 per cent more than the previous October, the biggest annual increase since current records began in 2004.

A further 263,000 are classed as second homes which are not in residential use long-term, and are not charged extra council tax when they are unused.

Action on Empty Homes said that the 531,000 properties without residents should instead offer “vitally needed housing” to the homeless.

Director Will McMahon said: “It can’t be right that in the last four years we have seen an escalating housing crisis while the number of long-term empty homes keeps rising.

“There are over 100,000 children languishing in overcrowded and temporary accommodation at a time when we know that overcrowded housing is being linked to the spread of the coronavirus and to higher mortality.

“It will be impossible to ‘build back better’ if we keep letting our housing crisis get worse.”

Separate figures from MHCLG show there were 264 households in Peterborough in temporary accommodation as of September, including 307 children.

They are among 59,400 families, including 120,600 children, in temporary accommodation across England.

Housing charity Shelter said it is frustrating to see so many empty properties, but a new generation of social homes is needed to solve the problem.

Chief executive Polly Neate said: “Tackling these empty homes is not an adequate alternative to building more genuinely affordable housing.

“We could fill every one of these properties and we still wouldn’t have solved the chronic housing shortage we face.”

A further 400,000 vacant homes across England had been used within the last six months, including 1,306 in Peterborough.

Peterborough City Council states that empty homes are a national problem. “They encourage vandalism, social issues and degradation, as well as providing an eyesore for surrounding residents and communities. At Peterborough City Council, we are committed to reducing the number of empty properties in the city, and tackling the issues associated with long-term empty homes.

“In support of the Government’s initiative to tackle the shortfall in national housing, Peterborough City Council is currently undertaking a review of empty Council Tax properties.

“Homes that lay empty for long periods are a waste of a scarce resource, record demands for housing and growing social housing waiting lists mean that more use has to be made of the existing housing stock. We aim to utilise the existing housing stock, whilst reducing the impact of empty homes on neighbouring residents, and highlighting the benefits of reuse to the vacant property owners.”

The council adds: “Our Empty Homes Service offers Peterborough homeowners information, advice and support to bring their empty properties back into use. If you own an empty home, we can give you a free property assessment; informally discuss with you the various options and the best way to proceed; advise and help you with applications, approvals, lettings and sale processes; offer financial assistance for the refurbishment of a property, when used in conjunction with the Empty Homes Partnership.

“If you are thinking of buying an empty home, or have recently bought or inherited one, we can provide support, assistance and contacts in the refurbishment and future use of the property.”

An MHCLG spokesman said: “We have given councils powers and strong incentives to tackle empty homes, including the power to increase council tax by up to 300 per cent on these properties, and take over the management of homes that have been empty for a long period.

“They also receive the same New Homes Bonus for bringing an empty home back into use as for building a new one.”

When owners leave properties empty in Peterborough, the council’s Empty Homes Partnership has several options:

* serve a Compulsory Purchase Order on the property

* serve improvement notices, to make the owner bring their property up to the current housing standards

* apply for an Empty Dwelling Management Order - which enables the council to take over the management of the property for up to seven years, carry out remedial works and use the property to reduce the housing need within the city

* enforce the sale of a property

* carry out a Demolition Order, where the condition of a property goes beyond a returnable state of repair.

Enforcement measures are only used as a last resort where it has been impossible to trace the owner, agree a voluntary solution with them, or where a home has simply been abandoned. But in cases of extreme dereliction, urban blight, or structural instability, the city council says it must act to protect the health and safety of Peterborough residents.