An Englishman’s home is his castle… but only if it is lived in, according to a new crackdown on privately owned empty homes in Milton Keynes.
Milton Keynes Council estimates that there are more than 2,000 homes in the borough that have been empty for six months or more, which is anathema to the authority because of burgeoning homelessness in the city.
Of the 2,000-plus empty homes, 600 have been vacant for more than two years, and 123 of those are currently unfurnished.
In its new Empty Homes Strategy, due to be rubber-stamped by the MK Council cabinet on Tuesday, the council is vowing to get tough on private landlords.
“Every empty property is a waste which could be a home for someone,” the strategy authors say. “As of May 2019, there were 781 families living in temporary accommodation in Milton Keynes and nationally there is a housing shortage which is driving up prices and rents.”
The council says its starting point is “to always engage with owners by talking directly to them or where possible arranging a face-to-face meeting at the empty home.”
But within the velvet glove lies the iron fist of the law, and the strategy pulls no punches: “Owners of empty homes should be aware that while the council would prefer to work with them, taking no action is not an option.
“Owners of an empty home have responsibility for it and should act accordingly, if they are unable or unwilling to bring the property back to use by working with us, the property will be assessed for enforcement action.”
Council powers go right up to the possibility of compulsory purchase.
Owners of the 123 empty unfurnished homes in the borough are already subject to a council tax premium of 200 per cent, which the government will allow to further increase in the next two years.
And the strategy says landlords can also get help to bring homes back into use.
The strategy is due to be presented to Cabinet by Cllr Nigel Long, the cabinet member for housing and regeneration, who will be asking for it to be formally approved and adopted.
The Empty Homes Strategy has been through a 12-week public online consultation but there were only 17 responses, and 88 per cent or respondents agreed with the priorities and planned outcome.