SPECIAL REPORT: Scandal of Rotherham's 1,100 empty homes

SPECIAL REPORT: Scandal of Rotherham's 1,100 empty homes

By Michael Upton | 07/01/2020

SPECIAL REPORT: Scandal of Rotherham's 1,100 empty homes

HOMES worth almost £36 million have been standing empty for more than two years — as Rotherham Council targets 1,000 new properties EVERY year to keep up with demand.

Research found 1,101 houses, flats and other homes across the borough had been vacant at least six months, 267 of them for more than two years.

Fifty-two of these, valued at over £7 million, have not been lived in for more than ten years, with another 93 (worth £12.4 million) having been unoccupied for more than five years.

The problem is much worse in other areas, with the borough’s six-months vacancy rate of nine homes per 1,000 being less than half of that of worst-affected Bradford.

But the figures prompted John Healey, former Labour housing minister, to call for councils to be allowed to get tougher with the owners of long-term empty properties, while housing charity Shelter called for a mass home building programme to tackle a national “housing emergency”, saying even bringing vacant properties back into use would not solve the crisis.

Home insurer Admiral said it had combined government records with figures from Freedom of Information Act requests to all British councils to find out where the empty homes crisis was most severe and assess the potential sale value of empty homes.

It found more than 278,000 homes had sat empty across England, Scotland and Wales for longer than six months, with 25,656 of those — worth an estimated £789 million — in Yorkshire alone.

National charity Action on Empty Homes estimated the number of unused dwellings in the UK is even higher — at 600,000.

Long-term empty homes are defined as those dwellings which have been “unoccupied and substantially unfurnished for over six months”. 

Under new legislation that came into force in April, councils do not have to give council tax relief to homes that have been empty for at least two years.

They are also allowed by law to use Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs) to take over vacant properties but their use was restricted in 2012.

Mr Healey, who was shadow housing minister and Wentworth & Dearne MP before yesterday’s general election, called for EDMOs to be revived and branded empty properties “a waste of much needed homes and a blight on local streets”.

He said talked of Labour ambitions to allow councils to charge a 300 per cent empty-homes premium on properties that have been empty for more than a year and “reverse the recent weakening of councils’ powers to bring homes back into use with empty dwelling management orders”.

Housing charity Shelter called for a mass housing building programme to tackle a national “housing emergency”.

The charity’s Sheffield hub manager, Tracey Nathan, said: “While it’s frustrating to see empty properties anywhere, we shouldn’t pretend that these alone are an adequate alternative to building more genuinely affordable homes.

“The truth remains that we could fill every one of these empty properties and we still wouldn’t have solved the severe housing shortage we face.

“That's why we're calling on government to commit to building three million more social homes over the next 20 years. 

“It’s the only way to end this country’s housing emergency.”

Earlier this year, Rotherham Council announced three housing schemes worth £30 million to provide a total of 171 privately and publicly-owned homes.

This is a fraction of the 958 per year targeted in RMBC’s Housing Strategy, which found around 570 had been built annually for the past five years.

Cllr Dominic Beck, the authority’s cabinet member for housing, said: “We understand that there are a number of reasons why a home may become empty and unloved, such as financial difficulties, a change in situation or changes in health and care, but we want to work with empty home owners to make sure they maximise the use out of their properties.”

To see Admiral’s empty homes data, visit  https://www.admiral.com/multicover-insurance/home-alone/.


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