Major problem of empty homes put under scrutiny

Increasing problem: Leyland Lane in Leyland, where a flat has been left empty for more than 10 years
Increasing problem: Leyland Lane in Leyland, where a flat has been left empty for more than 10 years

The staggering number of empty homes in South Ribble is estimated to have reached 1,462, while the number of people on a housing waiting list in the area lies at 1,500.

Shocking new figures from a report by South Ribble Council reveal that around 173 of those empty properties have been neglected for more than a year, while 13 have been empty for more than 10 years.

Reasons include people being in hospital for long periods of time, or elderly people 
dieing and their children not feeling ready to put the house on the market.

Now, an action group has been formed to try to resolve the growing problem, and the team, made up of councillors, has come up with a controversial way to encourage people to sell their empty properties.

They want to demolish the council tax discount which currently applies to empty households, meaning that owners of long-term empty properties will have to pay up to 100% council tax.

Coun Michael Titherington, who chairs the council’s scrutiny committee and a is part of the special review team, said: “There is a real problem in South Ribble of an increased demand for housing, and an increasing number of empty properties being left derelict.

“There are a wide variety of reasons, and you can’t point it to the recession, but the number of homeless people is also expected to increase, so we really need to do something to help.

“The report acts as an incentive; if you’re not prepared to put the property on the market, council tax will increase.”

He said that some people need help and advice when trying to sell vacant homes, after a relative has died for example, and he hopes the council can work with owners and social housing associations, so that the houses can be made available to those who need them most.

“The whole purpose of this is to tackle to issue of demand and supply,” he said. “We want the turnover of empty properties to be reduced to a minimum.”

South Ribble MP Lorraine Fullbrook, whose constituency covers a third of the area covered by South Ribble Council, said: “Every council is having to review the situation of empty properties, and for a very good reason.

“If a property becomes dilapidated or vandalised, it’s not fair on those who live near it.

“If a house is a terrace or semi-detached, and it’s left for 10 years, it can develop damp and leaks, which can affect those living next door.”

She added: “I don’t believe that anyone should remove a private dwelling from someone, if a person is in hospital for example.

“But I also believe that the owner, or the person who has inherited the property, has a responsibility to maintain it, so that its neighbours are not badly affected.”

New Progress Housing Association currently has 1,500 people wanting to let a home in South Ribble.

Deputy Managing Director Gary Melia said: “South Ribble Council has approached us to discuss how we could assist to reduce the number of empty homes in the borough.

“We are in the early stages of discussions with the council to share our ideas and experiences for how some of the homes could be brought back into use.”

The council tax proposal is one of the recommendations in the new report, and will need to be discussed by the council’s housing department before the idea goes any further.