The guidance sets out how local authorities can use the tools at their disposal for dealing with empty homes, including:
Increasing pressure on owners to bring empty properties back into use. The guidance makes clear councils should try to track down owners of empty properties, for example by placing adverts in newspapers, visiting their home address, or using professional search agencies if appropriate;
Encouraging local authorities to issue an EDMO as a last resort where other measures have failed, by explaining clearly how they can be used. EDMOs allow local authorities to take over the management, not the ownership, of a property. The guidance shows that even the threat of an EDMO can have a significant impact on encouraging owners to work with councils to bring homes back into use;
Acting on local residents’ concerns and petitions to bring empty homes back into use through a range of powers, including EDMOs.
Under the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill going through Parliament at the moment, local people will be able to petition councils to bring empty homes back into use.
Margaret Beckett said: "Empty homes blight local neighbourhoods and can potentially attract anti-social behaviour. That is why councils must do all they can to bring empty homes in their area back into use.
"I believe that with an increased focus and more consistent approach we can bring more homes back into use. With house building slowing in the current economic climate, that is more important than ever.
"The new guidance helps strengthen the role of councils by setting out the broad powers they have to deal with empty homes, and is part of the range of actions we are taking to support the regeneration of our towns and cities."
Empty homes not only restrict housing supply, poorly-maintained empty properties attract vermin, cause damp and other problems for neighbouring properties.
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors estimates that properties adjoining poorly maintained empty properties can be devalued by as much as 18%.
Over the past decade, the number of empty homes in England has declined by 9%, thanks to the efforts of Local Authorities such as Birmingham, South Oxfordshire, Manchester and Sheffield. Manchester Council in particular has warned 44 empty homeowners it will issue an EDMO unless they take steps to re-use the property, a proactive action Mrs Beckett wants to see more councils taking, and will be writing to local authorities to make this clear.
Chief Executive of the Empty Homes Agency David Ireland said: "Local authorities have the power to be great at helping return empty homes to use. Some already are, but with the recession causing more homes to fall empty it has never been more important for all councils to do more. New homes from empty properties can help meet some of the need left by falling house building rates. I’m delighted that the Minister is supporting this guidance and urge local authorities to take her challenge to take more proactive action."
The current Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill going through Parliament at the moment gives local people the power to petition councils to bring empty homes back into use and the Government is also due to bring together local authorities next month to encourage them to take action on empty homes.
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