Yesterday’s announcement by Margaret Beckett in which she called for more council action on empty homes was welcome, and not overdue. It’s the first time a government minister has had anything significant to say about councils and empty homes since the government introduced empty dwelling management orders in 2006. The fact that since then councils have used the legislation only seventeen times is hardly praiseworthy and frankly looks pretty feeble. Yes councils can get homes back into use without using the legislation and yes some owners have brought their properties back into use without the council needing to complete the EDMO. But nevertheless, does seventeen EDMOs in two and half years indicate councils are doing all they can? Not to me it doesn’t.
But here’s the rub. Councils have become conditioned to doing what they are told by ministers, and two and a half years of silence has not given the impression ministers think it that important. When EDMOs were introduced government introduced no new funding. Although councils can in theory recover their costs when carrying out an EDMO, there is a big upfront bill (of perhaps £70,000), which can only be fully recovered after seven years. Small councils simply can’t afford this. Government doesn’t have to hand out money to help. Making a fund available that councils can borrow against would make all the difference.
So well done to Margaret Beckett for calling for action and promising to write to all councils, but will you back it up with support and funding to make sure that councils don’t forget it again in a few months time?