Support given to owners of long term empty homes in West Suffolk

Owners of long term empty homes in West Suffolk are being asked to work with the council to help meet some of the local demand for housing.

Nearly 250 properties in the area have been empty for at least two years. The figures have been published as part of National Empty Homes Week although this is day to day work for the local councils.

Sara Mildmay-White, lead member for Housing for West Suffolk councils said: “The councils offer owners of empty homes help and support, through grants and services, to bring accommodation back into use. 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.

“It may be that the owners, who are missing out on income from rent, do not feel capable of maintaining and managing the property as landlord. 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. That could be ideal for a first time buyer considering taking on a fixer upper. 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, in a prominent community location, 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.

Cllr Mildmay-White said: “That is the carrot, there is also a the stick in the shape of an increase in the 50 per cent 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 per cent 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.”

Pictured above are Sara Mildmay-White, centre, with Mr and Mrs Steve Finneran who have brought the property back into use.

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