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Frustration over number of homes left empty despite housing crisis

PUBLISHED: 14:18 18 October 2018 | UPDATED: 14:18 18 October 2018

Sara Mildmay-White, councillor (centre), with Mr and Mrs Finneran who have brought the property back into use in Exning Picture: WEST SUFFOLK COUNCILS

Sara Mildmay-White, councillor (centre), with Mr and Mrs Finneran who have brought the property back into use in Exning Picture: WEST SUFFOLK COUNCILS

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Nearly 250 properties in west Suffolk have been empty for at least two years, new figures have revealed.

Sara Mildmay-White, councillor (left), with Mr and Mrs Finneran who have brought the property back into use in Exning Picture: WEST SUFFOLK COUNCILSSara Mildmay-White, councillor (left), with Mr and Mrs Finneran who have brought the property back into use in Exning Picture: WEST SUFFOLK COUNCILS

The statistics have been published as part of National Empty Homes Week, which ends on Sunday, with councils speaking of their frustration at the problems because of the “real need for this housing”.

The owners of long-term empty properties are now being urged to work with councils to bring accommodation back into use.

Grants are being made available to help owners do that - but Sara Mildmay-White, lead member for housing at West Suffolk councils, also warned owners could face a 50% increase in council tax premium if their property is empty for two years or more.

She said: “The reasons for property becoming and remaining empty can be personal and complex, but it is also frustrating as we know that there is a real need for this housing.

“We have a housing register of 2,378 people across west Suffolk – some of these are people looking to upsize or downsize or move into an area, and the council simply can’t meet this need on its own.”

Mrs Mildmay-White said there are many ways west Suffolk councils can support owners of long-term empty homes.

“It may be that the owners do not feel capable of maintaining and managing the property as landlord,” she said.

“In that case, our landlord liaison officer would welcome the opportunity to discuss help such as the guaranteed rental scheme through our West Suffolk Lettings Partnership. If it is the costs of repairing the property that is the barrier, then we also offer an Empty Homes Grant of up to £20,000 for essential works where the property has been empty for over a year.

“We can also give the owners of these properties advice or point them in the direction of other services that may be able to help.”

The Empty Homes Grant has been successfully used to bring a long-term empty property in Exning back into use.

The property suffered damage when a vehicle drove through the ground floor shopfront, which had residential accommodation above.

Public Health and Housing officers worked with the owner over a period of time to explore all the options. The property was subsequently sold, and the new owner undertook renovations using the grant, and new tenants have just moved in.

Mrs Mildmay-White added: “That is the carrot, there is also a stick in the shape of an increase in the 50% council tax premium charged on properties that have been empty for two or more years, which is set to double in April 2019 – so 200% council tax will be payable.

“The council does have other powers to try to take over management of these properties to bring these homes back into use and although the number of empty homes has slowly been coming down in recent years, we will always keep these as an option where practical.”

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