Government plans to reduce what Housing Minister Grant Shapps describes as the “scandal” of thousand of empty homes have been criticised as “inadequate” by housing campaigners, squatters and the opposition Labour Party.
This follows the release earlier the month of a revised 35-page Empty Homes toolkit for property owners, concerned neighbours, council officers and community organisations that want to bring empty homes back into use.
At the launch meeting Shapps said: “This shows the government aims to bring empty homes back into use.”
There are known to be over 700,000 homes standing empty including over 300,000 that have remained unoccupied for, at least, one year.
Late last year the coalition Government allocated £100 million late last year to Housing Associations to unlock 3,000 empty homes for affordable rent and agreed to support local councils by matching the council tax raised for every empty property brought back into use.
It’s hoped that the latter, which was a part of the Liberal Democrats manifesto at the May 2010 election, will prove a strong enough financial incentive for councils to deal with problems in their area.
But government is also cutting other housing funding with £4 billion [from £8.4 billion] coming off the affordable house building budget under which Housing Associations were given a 40% subsidy to construct some 50,000 homes each year. According to Roger Harding, Head of Policy and Research at Shelter, this move will “prevent an entire generation from being able to secure an affordable place to live.” Whilst he welcomes any measures to get the best use of existing housing stock Harding believes there will still be a need for “a massive number of new affordable homes.”
The shadow Housing Minster, Labour’s Alison Seabeck, meanwhile accused the Tories of having wasted 13 years in opposition by failing to develop a housing policy. She said that the government was more concerned about “getting a good press rather than making real progress such that no one really knows how many empty homes will have been brought back into use by the government’s programme. I’m not hopeful it will be that many.”
All of which might see the numbers considering squatting rise. According to the London based Advisory Service for Squatters [ASS] there are around 22,000 squatters in England and Wales, up from 9,500 in 1995 and last year a representative of the UK Bailiff Company claimed that the number of people squatting in Wales was at its highest for 40 years.
Set alongside 700,000 empty homes its still a relatively small figure at around 3% of the total and yet the toolkit makes regular references to the need to prevent empty homes being squatted in order to prevent them being damaged.
Myk from ASS accuses the government of misrepresenting squatters saying they are “simply people who find themselves homeless and need somewhere to live. ASS would welcome any funding that would encourage communities to take over empty space in a way that gives security to those housed. In the past short-life housing co-operatives allowed thousands of people to house themselves and collectively carry out any repair works needed, and they often only failed because they didn’t lead to more secure housing options.”
The empty homes toolkit is at http://www.homesandcommunities.co.uk/empty-homes-toolkit