Friday, 31 October 2014

Birmingham Council tops empty homes table

Councils in the north and the midlands have topped a government league table which shows the best authorities at bringing empty homes back into use.

Top of the list is Birmingham Council which has turned 2,151 vacant properties into homes over the past two years, according to official figures. England’s largest local authority landlord is followed closely by Manchester, which brought 2,118 homes back into use.

In total, councils in England have helped convert 38,000 long-term vacant properties into homes, the Communities and Local Government figures show.

Communities minister Don Foster hailed the figures as proof that the government’s new homes bonus was succeeding. Under the bonus scheme local authorities reward councils for bringing empty properties back into use by match funding the additional council tax raised on the new home for the following six years. Birmingham will receive £391,000 of bonus payment from the government for its efforts.

Mr Foster said he was ‘delighted’ about the bonus scheme’s positive start. ‘By making councils accountable to their residents, not to Whitehall, we are ensuring local taxpayers have the ability to check that money is being spent efficiently and decisions taken for the benefit of the communities.’

Meanwhile, two authorities are planning to revamp council tax discounts for people with second homes. Ealing and Camden councils have both said they want to abolish the council tax breaks which are currently available. From April next year all local authorities will be free to decide which properties should receive council tax breaks and exemptions.

Yvonne Johnson, cabinet member for finance and performance at Ealing said she wanted to discourage people from leaving homes vacant. ‘We have a desperate shortage of housing,’ she added.

Camden Council plans to charge residents 150 per cent council tax for second homes which are left empty for more than two years. ‘In Camden at the moment there are over a thousand homes that are just lying empty for investment’s sake, part of someone’s property portfolio,’ Theo Blackwell,  cabinet member for finance a the north London authority told the BBC.

Readers' comments (9)

  • Chris

    Surely no surprise after the mismanagement of Tory rule permitted so many empty homes within their boundaries in the first place - but if Labour are to prove credible they must act swiftly to put matters right, and act firmly on Labour Boroughs who also oversee appalling levels of empty homes.

    As most of the empty properties are privately owned a policy of 'use it or lose it' would appear justified, and far better than taxing the empty to lower the Council Tax for home occupiers - that just leaves the homeless homeless where as taking the empty home into public ownership means it can be used to give the homeless a roof over their head (without the need to squat in the abandoned void)

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  • Melvin Bone

    Not sure you could justify a 'use it or lose it' policy Chris but certainly an escalating Council Tax Charge for empty properties would seem justified.

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  • Chris

    Only if it factored the Council Tax Charge up to the value of the property - that would cause the 750,000 private homes to come back into use.

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  • I'm afraid that because this has been a high profile political figure for a long time now these figures are routinely manipulated by local authorities and are not worth the paper (or electrons) they are printed on.

    Almost all "empty homes brought back into use" are a complete nonsense, as anyone who works in a local authority knows.

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  • Joe Halewood

    Birmingham will receive a bonus of £391,000! Wow for 2,151 properties thats a bonus of £182.78 per property!

    Yes the Tories new homes bonus is £182.78 - bound to be a success then!

    How does £182.78 relate to 6 years worth of council tax?

    Can I get my council to adopt a council tax bill of £30.30 per year please?

    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!?????????????????????????????

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  • Birmingham and Manchester top the table because:
    1 - they are the biggest local authorities in the country - there are more houses within their area
    2 - the total probably includes homes that were previously empty pending refurbishment / redevelopment. Big regeneration projects trump individual empty homes brought back into use.

    Changes in the property market could also have an effect although this is unlikely over the period in question (2010-2011).

    The figures are now taken from Council Tax records of properties empty for 6 months or more - regardless of the reason for being empty, or council action to bring them back into use. They also cover all tenures including social housing, so big regeneration projects can skew the figures massively. However in general the figures are much more reliable than they used to be.

    I think the Minister's statement that this proves the worth of the New Homes Bonus is rather sadly mistaken. What savvy councils have been doing is data cleansing their lists of empty properties and improving their record keeping - no bad thing, and can uncover properties that look inhabited but are actually empty, and brings in much needed council tax revenue. However very few councils have used NHB revenue to support empty homes action - we need to keep making the case for this.

    By the way, Birmingham's New Homes Bonus for empty properties in 2012-13 was over £2m - where did Inside Housing get the figure of £319k from??

    All the data's available at: http://www.communities.gov.uk/news/corporate/2225005

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  • Anyone else think the headline is misleading. It gives the impression that this something negative about Birmingham, whereas in fact it's something positive.

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  • Kirsten, good post. If only NHB was awarded for well crafted pieces of spin, the author of this particular press release would be a millionaire many times over.

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  • The real question - how many delivery contracts have been issued by the HCA for its national empty homes initiative?

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