Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Five things the government should do about empty homes

Zac Goldsmith was kind enough to name check the Empty Homes Agency on the Today programme this morning. He suggested that instead of “garden grabbing” which the government announced it would be restricting , “there are a lot of empty homes lets find ways of incentivising getting them back into use”

All very encouraging. Zac Goldsmith is of course not a member of the government (yet) but this is just the latest in a number of suggestions by people in and around the government that they will introduce measures to deal with empty homes soon. I met Grant Shapps last week and he said nothing to dispel the belief. But what should they do? Here’s what I think

1. Change grant rules to give housing associations a real incentive to buy and refurbish empty homes, and give greater flexibility so that homelessness charities and other community groups can refurbish empty homes too.

2. Government and public sector landlords should hand over surplus properties to local communities for them to bring back into use. Councils should be encouraged to do the same.

3. Give homeowners incentive to refurbish their own empty homes by reducing VAT rates on refurbishment to 5%. It is particularly important that special provision is made for refurbishment if the overall VAT rate rises.

4. Councils should be encouraged to act by extending the government’s proposed council tax incentive scheme (which rewards councils for getting homes built) to long-term empty homes returned to use.

5. Keep council powers including Empty Dwelling management orders. Without them council’s effectiveness is reduced. We agree that they should be amended but please don’t repeal them.

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