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Improving Communities and Creating Housing: Bringing Long-Term Empty Homes Back Into Use

Bedford Borough Council works all year round to bring long-term empty homes back into use and, in advance of National Empty Homes Week, celebrates some notable successes from the last year.

Long-term empty homes can become derelict, unloved and a blight on local communities. They are also a waste of a much-needed home.

Action taken by the Council to bring empty homes back into use ranges from working with owners offering advice, to compulsorily purchasing a property.

Bedford Borough Council is proactive in tackling long-term empty homes, allocating nearly £3million in recent years to fund the compulsory purchase of properties, which is the last resort after all attempts to work with the owner have proved unsuccessful.

One such success story is in Sharnbrook. A bungalow became empty after the owner passed away in 2012. As the condition of the bungalow deteriorated, it became a local eyesore. After contacting the person we understood to be the beneficiary, they indicated that they had no interest in the property. As no other beneficiaries could be identified, the Council started compulsory purchase action.

This led to the person initially believed to be the beneficiary obtaining probate and putting the bungalow on the market where it was sold to a local developer ‘ASKwilson Builders’. Following the sale, the Council dropped the compulsory purchase action. ASKwilson Builders have since converted the property into a pair of modern semi-detached bungalows, creating two homes from this property that had been lying empty for 7 years.

Matthew Wilson from ASKwilson Builders said “We are pleased to have had the opportunity to purchase, renovate and bring this long term-empty property back in to use as two quality homes. Both properties have been marketed, are currently under offer and set to be occupied soon.”

Following a change in government legislation, from April 2019 owners of properties that have been empty for two years are charged double the normal rate of Council Tax. From April 2020, owners of properties that have been empty over five years will have to pay triple the normal Council Tax rate, increasing to four times for properties that have been empty for over ten years from April 2021. It is hoped that this will encourage people to contact the Council, and get advice to bring their property back into use.

Cllr Colleen Atkins, Portfolio Holder for Community Safety, Regulatory Services and Housing said “It is always sad to see a long-term empty property being left unused and potentially falling into a state of disrepair. We are proactive in bringing these back into use, by working with owners or ultimately if they won’t take action, compulsorily purchasing the property.

“In 2018/19 alone, 134 empty homes were brought back into use following intervention by the Council. This has helped improve many neighbourhoods and environments in addition to providing much-needed housing in the Borough.”

Individuals and local communities can support the Council’s efforts to bring empty homes back into use by reporting empty properties to our Housing Strategy team via www.bedford.gov.uk/emptyhomes. If you have an empty property and would like advice on bringing it back into use, please contact the Housing Strategy Team on (01234) 718581 or email housing.strategy@bedford.gov.uk.