Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Chinese whispers

The story started with a Conservative party press release last Friday about Empty Dwellings Management Orders, it was published as a story in the Saturday versions of the Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the BBC’s website, picked up by Wales on Sunday each time getting further from the truth. By the time that it ended up on the American news website Free Market News yesterday the story had become
while the nation's attention is focused on England's fortunes in World Cup soccer, the government has allegedly made plans to seize a number of recently deceased citizens' homes before their heirs can claim them”
It would have been a good story unfortunately it is not true. Empty Dwellings Management orders, which become fully operational in July, give local authorities powers to take management control of long-term empty homes. There are a number of exemptions and special provisions limiting the power. Amongst them is a provision relating to properties that are empty because the owner has died. This provision means that the local authority will not be able to use the power while probate is being resolved and for a further 6 months after probate is complete.


  1. Robert Whelan, of the think-tank Civitas, said the "outrageous" confiscation of property ran "right against the ancient common-law principle of private property, which is as fundamental as habeas corpus.

    the daily telegraph

    how true is this?

  2. I don't know Robert Whelan but I respect his opinion. To my mind confiscation is to take possession as a punishment. EDMOS don't take possession as the ownership is unaffected. And how much of a punishment is a process that does up your property for free then lets it out and pays you the rent?

    Management orders are not a new concept they have been in British law since at least the 1940s (Control orders and HMO manageemnt orders for example). Why the fuss now?

  3. With respect they do take "possession", but they don't take ownership. It is an outrageous interference with an owner's rights to do whatever he pleases with his own property. If social housing is needed, the government should build it or compulsorily purchase for full value. It's not for them to direct the use of private property.

  4. Dear Tom,
    I read your blog and enjoy it, but I suspect we are approaching this issue from such different perspectives that we are unlikely to agree.

    The trouble is with freedom to do what ever you please is that it interferes with other people’s freedom. I regularly talk to people who feel passionately that we should not build more houses over the countryside, to others who want their children to have the opportunity to buy a house of their own, and to those that want the derelict house next door attracting squatters and vandals dealt with. Bringing empty homes back into use is one small part of the answer to these problems and EDMOs are one small tool that might help achieve it.

  5. what about the freedom to grieve?

  6. David where is the conservative press release? the link doesn't appear to work

  7. Dear Anon,

    you're right it appears to have been removed off their webiste. Here is the text:

    Labour uses World Cup fever to hide Prescott's home grab plans

    Whitehall spin doctors were embroiled in a new 'burying bad news' scandal today after Conservatives revealed that the Government used the World Cup to slipped out new details on state powers to grab private homes. The powers, drawn up by John Prescott before he lost his job, were detailed in a publication put out by Ruth Kelly's new department on Friday afternoon, without any press release, ahead of England's Saturday World Cup match.

    The controversial new 'Empty Dwelling Management Orders' will give town halls the power to seize and commandeer private homes which have been empty for as little as six months. The small print reveals:
    • The Order seizing the property can last for up to seven years.
    • The home does not have to be run down or uninhabitable to be seized, merely empty for six months. Labour previously claimed they would only be used for blighted properties.
    • Homes of the recently deceased can be confiscated, even if inheritance issues are not yet finalised. This could be within as little as six months of the death of the owner.
    • The state collective taking over the property can house any type of tenant in the building without the consent of the owner, including those with a record of anti-social behaviour.
    • They are not obliged to obtain a market rent, but can still deduct all their running costs from the rent; owners are therefore likely to receive little compensation back.
    • Tenants in the home will still have contractual and legal rights of occupancy, making it more difficult to return the property to the owner if the Order is revoked.
    • The new rules will not apply to empty homes or properties owned by incompetent or inefficient public sector bodies, nor empty ministerial residences like Dorneywood.

    Michael Gove MP, Shadow Minister for Housing & Planning, said:
    "Homeowners will be alarmed at John Prescott's parting gift of new state powers to confiscate people's homes for up to seven years, with little compensation for the owner. Given the controversy over Prescott's three homes, Labour's spin machine has scored an own goal by using the World Cup to bury their bad news. /continued…

    "There is a case for action to put boarded-up and blighted properties back into use and councils need to reduce their empty housing stock. But these heavy-handed powers allow bureaucrats to seize private homes in perfect condition just because they have been empty for a short while.

    "Seizing homes of the recently deceased is particularly disturbing. I doubt that state officials will always recognise the delays that can result from complex wills or appreciate the traumatic ordeal that families face with the task of clearing a home of personal possessions. I fear this is a stealthy new form of inheritance tax by the Labour Government."

    Michael Gove MP