Oxford City Council is marking the start of National Empty Homes Week by urging owners of empty homes to bring them back into use.
An empty home may be a flat, dwelling house or house in multiple occupation that is privately owned and has been unoccupied for more than six months. According to council tax records there are currently 383 empty homes in Oxford.
The council’s call comes as Action on Empty Homes reports the number of empty homes has grown by five percent in the last two years – the fastest rise in a decade. There are now more than 216,000 empty homes in England.
In the last year the number of homes in Oxford that have been unoccupied for between six months and two years has increased from 184 to 235. There was also an increase in the number of homes unoccupied for more than two years from 78 to 95.
Over the same period the number of empty homes undergoing major works fell from 61 to 53.
The council works with executors and owners of empty homes to bring them back into use. In 2018/19 council intervention brought 21 empty homes back into use, with a further nine properties brought back into use since April.
Its preferred approach is to engage with and encourage owners and executors but the council will consider enforcement action where someone is unable or unwilling to bring a home back into use.
In 2017 the council obtained a compulsory purchase order (CPO) for a four bedroom home in Rose Hill that had been empty since the death of its owner in 1989. This has now been refurbished and let as a lifetime home to a family on the council’s housing register.
The council’s legal powers to deal with empty homes are limited. Government guidance states that a CPO can only be made if there is a compelling case in the public interest.
Empty dwelling management orders (EDMOs) allow the council to take over the maintenance and management of empty homes for up to seven years, but only if they have been unoccupied for more than two years and cause a nuisance in the community – for instance, because they have been vandalised.
Despite these limitations the council is currently considering options to apply for a CPO or EDMO in several cases. Since April 2018 it has also used its power to double council tax charges on properties that have been empty for more than two years.
“When we first employed an empty homes officer in 2005 there were 900 empty homes in Oxford, so we’ve made some good progress. But there’s no room for complacency. Action on Empty Homes has reported a big increase in empty homes across England, and we’ve also seen a rise in Oxford over the last twelve months.
“This is something we cannot afford given the scarcity and cost of housing in our city. It’s vitally important that any empty home in Oxford is brought back into use as quickly as possible. We would encourage property owners to work with us to help achieve this, and we can provide advice, information and support to bring these empty homes back into use.
"Although we will look at obtaining a CPO or EDMO when all else fails, we would much prefer to come to agreements with owners or executors of estates to bring empty properties back into use. If you’ve got an empty property you can help us to alleviate housing need in Oxford – please speak to our Empty Residential Property Officer about how we can help you.”
Councillor Mike Rowley, cabinet member for affordable housing
If you are aware of an empty home please contact the council’s Empty Residential Property Officer on 01865 252280 or report it on the council website.
National Empty Homes Week runs from 23 to 29 September. For more information visit: www.actiononemptyhomes.org.