Council backs national campaign to get Borough’s empty homes occupied
Swindon Borough Council is calling on owners of empty homes in the Borough to bring them back into use.Published: Monday, 15th February 2021
The Council is backing national Empty Homes Week, which gets underway today (15 Feb), and aims to highlight the problem of long-term empty properties in towns and cities across the UK.
In Swindon there are currently 294 privately-owned homes which have been empty for over a year and fall into the long-term bracket. This equates to just over 30 per cent of the total number of empty homes in the Borough.
Empty homes can be more prone to anti-social behaviour because there is nobody living in the house to look after it and keep it secure. Gardens can become overrun by brambles, which grow through to neighbouring gardens. Sometimes the home itself deteriorates. All these factors can have a negative impact on neighbours and the local communities who have to cope with all those issues. And they will all cost the owner time and/or money to put right.
There are numerous reasons why a home may be empty. The owner of the property may have died, moved into hospital or a care home, become ill, inherited it unexpectedly, or sometimes the homes are undergoing renovation work.
The Council takes a proactive approach to tackling empty homes. Council officers investigate and attempt to trace owners, offering advice on how to bring the property back into use, including advice on how to access funding.
The Council also increased council tax rates for long-term empty homes to incentivise homeowners to bring their properties back into use. Empty homes that have been left unoccupied and substantially unfurnished for two years will be charged 200 per cent of the council tax liability.
This increases to 300 per cent and 400 per cent, if a home has been unoccupied for five years and 10 years, respectively.
When a home has been empty for some time, is causing a problem for neighbours and the owner is not engaging with the Council, then the Council does have the option to begin enforcement action.
This can take the form of Section 215 notices, Empty Dwelling Management Orders, Enforced Sales or Compulsory Purchase Orders, but these lengthy processes are only employed when the Council has exhausted all options to work collaboratively with the owner.
Councillor Cathy Martyn, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Housing and Public Safety, said: “I support National Empty Homes Week. Every single home which has been left empty for a significant period of time is one too many.
“These properties often cause problems for neighbours. And if they’ve been empty long term, they usually cost the owners money to bring them back to a standard where someone can live in them.
“Why sit on an empty home when you could sell it, rent it out, or live in it yourself? There are people who desperately want to buy or rent a home. Please don’t sit on a money pit, make your empty home work for you. We want to help owners of empty homes to bring them back into use.
“Sometimes there are genuine reasons why a house may be unoccupied, but homes which are empty long term can attract anti-social behaviour, devalue neighbouring properties and negatively impact the wellbeing of their neighbours and residents.
“Bringing long-term empty homes back into use has often been a slow, painstaking process. Recently our Empty Homes Officer has achieved really positive outcomes and we will continue to target as many vacant homes as we can.”
The Council has recently taken action to bring two long-term empty properties back into use. This includes a home in the SN5 postcode, which is believed to have been empty since July 2004.
When the unoccupied home was reported to the Council in 2016, officers spent almost four years trying to track down the owner, who had reportedly moved abroad. But when the owner failed to respond, the Council applied to the court to grant an order to sell the property just before Christmas so the home can be brought back into use.
In June 2016, the Council also began to receive complaints about an empty property in Drove Road that was attracting squatters and vermin. The gardens were so overgrown that they were at second storey level in height and growing through the building’s roof and windows, into the property.
But after managing to track down the owner, the Council’s Empty Homes Officer worked proactively with him to clear and tidy up the home and gardens. And, in December last year, it was sold to a property developer within days of being placed on the open market, with the intention of it being renovated into a modern family home.