‘Babergh is working to reduce empty homes’

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Latest news from the Suffolk Free Press, suffolkfreepress.co.uk, @sfpsudbury on Twitter

The union GMB has said there needs to be robust tax changes to ensure there are less vacant properties in the East of England.

The union says purposefully unoccupied dwellings must be utilised more thoroughly, claiming there ar 57,336 vacant properties in the East of England, over a quarter of which, 16,471, have been vacant for more than six months.

Babergh sits 34th out of 47 local authorities with 867 vacant dwelling according to figures from October 2015.

The current tax regime differs depending on where the property is located. Councils can either offer a discount for a second home or empty property; or they can charge extra for these properties, up to 50 per cent on top of the full charge, if the property has been empty for two years or more.

The former option, GMB says, leads to fewer properties available and higher rents due to the increase in demand.

Babergh District Council said the 867 figure was the total of all empty homes in October 2015, and not only included homes that had been empty for less than six months, but also various homes exempt from council tax.

A council spokesman said its housing team’s primary focus has been on getting homes that had been empty for six months or more back into use.

He added: “In October 2015 there were 210 properties in Babergh that had been empty for at least six months. Of these, 100 had been empty for over two years.

“For October 2016 and we have seen a decrease in both totals, with 191 properties that have been empty for at least six months, of which 89 have been empty for over two years.”

The council currently has two methods of reducing vacant properties. Through the Long Term Empty Premium – charging the additional 50 per cent council tax on homes empty over two years; and Empty Homes Loans – offering finance to owners to help return long term empty properties to use.

Jan Osborne, Babergh portfolio holder for housing delivery, said: “We are working hard to bring the number of empty properties down and in the last year we’ve brought 47 properties that had been empty for over two years back into use, but there is still plenty to do.”

“We provide both a carrot and a stick to get landlords to bring their property back into use: homes that have been empty for over two years will be charged the Long-Term Empty Premium.

“But property owners can also apply for Empty Homes loans to help return properties to use – already in this financial year Babergh has lent £50,000 to help bring empty properties up to the decent homes standard and back into use.

“Last year we added a form to our website to enable people to report empty properties; we’ve had positive results and I’d urge anyone aware of an empty home to let us know online.”