With the recession deepening and repossessions rising, a record 1.8 million families are now struggling to find suitable accommodation while at the same time, almost one million properties in the UK lie empty and unused.
Conservative leader David Cameron said: “At this incredibly difficult time, it’s vital that we focus our resources on helping families and people struggling at the sharp end of this recession. But we must do so in a way that is consistent with the long-term economic and social change Britain needs.
“That’s why the Conservatives will temporarily relax Labour’s stringent rules and regulations making it easier for the Affordable Housing sector to bring some of the one million empty homes in the UK into use.
“This will not only provide real help now to the 4.5 million people currently on the social housing waiting list and the 100 families that are having their home repossessed every day.
“It will also go a long way towards reducing the crime and anti-social behaviour associated with empty housing and preventing an over-correction in house prices by putting a floor in the housing market.”
Shadow Housing Minister Grant Shapps said: “With 1.8 million families on the social housing waiting list, 130,000 children homeless and the recession deepening, it’s time to bring forward innovative policies that can use the million empty homes across the UK to house those most in need.
“This waste of much-needed potential housing is yet another example of this Government’s failure to help Britain’s hard-working families in Brown’s recession.
“We urge the Government to follow our lead and help those families desperate for a home.”
The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) said it welcomed the new Conservative focus on tackling empty homes and applauded the emphasis on housing associations, local councils and national agencies working closely together.
However, CIH cautioned against suspending design and quality standards.
Residents of newly-occupied empty properties should not be required to live in poorer conditions than other tenants in affordable housing.
CIH Chief Executive Sarah Webb said: “We know that every empty home represents someone spending another night in a hostel, in a doorway, in overcrowded conditions or in a B&B.”
The National Housing Federation, which represents England’s housing associations, also gave the plans a cautious welcome.
Federation chief executive David Orr said: “With such acute housing need in much of the country, no-one wants to see homes lying empty.
“We would welcome flexibility in the use of public funding to allow housing associations to bring empty homes back in to use. Many housing associations would be interested in new opportunities to renovate and manage these homes.
“However the economic downturn must not weaken our resolve to drive up environmental and quality standards in housing, especially new build homes.”
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