From The Guardian:
Powers designed to help English councils bring empty homes back into use were used just 17 times in 2014, according to figures obtained by the Green party MEP Keith Taylor.
Empty dwelling management orders (Edmos) were introduced by the Labour government to make it easier for local councils to take possession of properties that had fallen into disuse. The orders allow a council to take temporary ownership of an empty home while it works with the owner to make it habitable and bring it back into use.
However, councils said they were too complex to use, and the housing minister described them as an “ineffective” policy from the last government.
The latest government figures show that more than 600,000 homes lie empty in England. Councils are using powers like council tax charges and compulsory orders to help to bring them back into use, but the scheme designed for the purpose is not being used.
When Edmos were launched in 2006, councils could apply after a property had been empty for just six months, but in 2011, the Conservatives overturned these “heavy handed rules”, and extended the period to two years.
Figures obtained by Taylor, an MEP for south-east England, show that the orders have never been widely used. Last year, just 17 homes were brought back to use through the scheme – the lowest figure for three years. Since the policy was introduced just 108 properties have been the subject of Edmos.
In London, where the housing crisis is an its most acute, just one Edmo was made in 2014. In the north of England, councils have made 15, and the remaining one was in the east of England.
Councils do use other devices to encourage and eventually force owners of empty properties to act. Some serve compulsory purchase orders, rather than using Edmos, however Edmos are designed specifically for this purpose.
“It’s totally scandalous to have thousands of homeless people sleeping rough when there are nearly a million empty houses” said Taylor, who obtained the latest figures while research a report on the housing crisis which is due in March.
“Bringing empty properties back into use is a quick win. Today’s shocking figures highlight government failures to get to grips with the issue of empty homes, and clearly illustrates that the Edmo system is failing.”
The Local Government Association said councils were taking a number of approaches to bring homes back into use. “This includes providing advice and information, grants and loans and levying an empty homes premium through council tax,” said the LGA’s housing spokesman, Peter Box.
“Councils work hard to address the issue of long-term empty homes in their local areas. As the majority of these properties are privately owned, this means also working with voluntary groups, private owners and government bodies to bring properties back into use. This includes providing advice and information, grants and loans and levying an empty homes premium through council tax.
“In some cases encouragement by itself will not be enough. However, the existing powers open to councils are complex and difficult to use. The government should simplify existing powers to support local authorities to bring empty properties back into use.”
The housing minister, Brandon Lewis, said Edmos were “an ineffective and unpopular policy of the last administration, which undermined civil liberties and which simply didn’t work”.
Lewis said the Conservatives had “put in tighter checks and balances to prevent their abuse”. He added: “We have cut the number of the empty homes by a third through other more workable measures, and I hope the number will continue to fall. The fact that there have been so few orders is a sign that the original policy was fundamentally flawed.”