A front page in last week’s Star highlighted the good news of a significant drop in the number of long term empty properties in Ipswich.
This drop hasn’t come about by accident. When Labour took control of the council in 2011 we made tackling the problem of empty homes a priority.
A team of council staff identifies empty properties and works with their owners to offer help and advice to bring their house back into use. Often this is successful but some owners either aren’t able or aren’t willing to act.
The Council Tax system used to give perverse incentives to keep homes empty by giving discounts on empty properties. We have changed this. Discounts are now only available for a month to encourage landlords to let their properties quickly when a tenant moves on. For homes that have been empty for longer than two years a premium of 50% above the standard council tax rate becomes payable.
For those owners who still refuse to act we retain the ultimate sanction of taking out a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) on the house.
This is an area where we have been particularly active. In the past three years we have agreed more CPOs than in the past thirty.
To obtain an order the council must demonstrate that it has the funds to make the purchase and we have created a £1m fund to do this. Once a property is purchased we can sell it on – possibly after refurbishing it – and then reuse the money for further purchases.
Quite often we don’t need to follow through on a purchase. Agreeing a CPO is frequently enough to jolt the owner into action. This is by far the most preferable outcome as obtaining a CPO is a lengthy and bureaucratic process. It’s much better for all concerned if the home is brought back into use quickly.
Young people are finding it almost impossible to get on the housing ladder and there are over three thousand people on the waiting list for social housing in Ipswich. The long term answer has clearly got to be building more houses but, in the short term, getting empty properties back into use will certainly help to reduce some of the pressure.