Oxford City Council is marking National Empty Homes Week by urging the 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 approximately 349 empty homes in Oxford.
This figure does not include empty homes exempt from council tax – for example, where the owner has died or the property is derelict – and there are around 800 empty homes in Oxford once these are taken into account.
The council’s call comes as Action on Empty Homes reports that the number of empty homes nationally has grown by nearly a fifth in one year. There are now more than 268,000 empty homes in England. Action on Empty Homes is calling for a national empty homes strategy backed by a £200m fund and new powers for councils to bring empty homes back into use.
Empty homes in Oxford
The council works with executors and owners of empty homes to bring them back into use. Council intervention has helped to bring 35 empty homes back into use so far in 2020/21.
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 was then refurbished and let as a lifetime home to a family on the 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.
“Action on Empty Homes has reported that the number of empty homes in England has risen by nearly a fifth in just one year and this is a national scandal. Some experts are warning that the impact of the pandemic could see growing numbers of empty homes and we urgently need a national strategy giving councils the resources and powers needed to tackle this issue.
“We cannot afford empty homes in Oxford given the scarcity and cost of housing in our city. It’s vitally important that any empty home 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 using enforcement powers when all else fails, we would much prefer to come to agreements with owners or executors of estates to bring empty homes 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 and housing the homeless
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 15 to 21 February. For more information visit www.actiononemptyhomes.org