MORE than 5,600 homes have been sitting empty in Oxfordshire – more than enough to clear the city’s housing waiting list in one fell swoop.
The Oxford Mail has obtained figures revealing there were 5,616 empty homes across the county in March – of which 1,749 had been unoccupied for six months or longer – as councils said they were working hard to bring them back into use.
Oxford’s waiting list is 3,896 households, which, notionally, could be wiped out easily in one go.
It comes after Oxfordshire’s housing authorities were told they had to build 100,000 homes by 2031 to help alleviate the county’s pressing need for new homes.
Housing support worker Debbie Hollingsworth, 49, who has herself been on the housing waiting list since 2003, said: “I don’t know the answer financially, but if you walk around Oxford there are so many properties that are boarded up and not being used for one reason or another.
“It seems bizarre that we have got people sleeping rough and a lot of people sofa-surfing who are not being picked up. We have around 35 people a quarter coming in to see us and that is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Ms Hollingsworth added: “The biggest problem is the huge rents in Oxford. Most people don’t care whether they are in private rented housing or council housing, they just want a roof over their head.”
Andrew Smith, who runs The Gatehouse homeless shelter in St Giles, said: “I know from having worked in local authority housing myself how difficult it can be to bring a property back into use, but it ought to be a priority given the pressure not just on people who are sleeping on the street but also families and those who might be challenged because of the bedroom tax.”
Last week Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said the numbers of empty properties in England had fallen to a 10-year low of 635,127.
Mr Pickles said: “Empty properties can blight entire neighbourhoods, becoming a magnet for antisocial behaviour when they should be family homes.”
Oxford City Council spokesman Chris Lee said that since October last year the authority has set
aside a revolving budget of £750,000 in support of compulsory purchase orders of long-term empty homes.
He said: “Since November 2005, numbers of long-term empty dwellings in the city have fallen from over 900 down to 387 in March 2014.
“This is largely as a result of the council’s work to encourage owners to bring properties back into use.”
Cherwell District Council, which has the highest number of empty homes according to the Freedom of Information figures obtained by the Oxford Mail at more than 1,500, said this figure included homes which were briefly empty while going through the sale process.
Spokesman Tony Ecclestone said: “The latest information indicates there are some 355 properties that have been empty for six months or more and that, as of the end of March, 66 have been empty for at least two years.
“The council’s position is that it wants to see empty homes reused, will help get them back into use where it can, and is also prepared to use enforcement powers in some situations.
“We are taking action in several ways, including the purchase and redevelopment of properties through our Build! scheme, the provision of grants and practical advice and also warnings to certain owners that enforcement action is likely should they fail to take steps to get homes sold or back into use.”
EMPTY HOMES PER DISTRICT
Oxford: All empty – 969; Long term – 387
Cherwell: All empty – 1,599; Long term – 355
West Oxfordshire: All empty – 1,083; Long term – 371
South Oxfordshire: All empty – 1,075; Long term – 363
Vale of White Horse: All empty – 890; Long term – 273
VALE AND SOUTH
Increased council tax premiums for longer-term empty homes. Vale has empty home and low cost loans and deposit guarantee schemes which offers landlords a guarantee to cover loss or damage of property. South also offers a rent deposit scheme.
Council tax discounts have been removed for empty homes and loan schemes are available to help owners bring them back into use.
Charges an additional 50 per cent of council tax for properties empty for more than two years. The council also uses empty dwelling management orders and in October compulsorily purchased a property which had been empty for 15 years.
Takes action through the purchase and redevelopment of properties through its Build! scheme, the provision of grants and practical advice and it warns owners that enforcement action is likely should they fail to get a home back into use. It is making applications for two empty dwelling management orders.