The suggestion came from Coun Jeff Reid, chairman of the county council’s communities and place committee, and was backed by other members during a discussion on empty properties at a meeting on Wednesday, December 4.
It follows the authority approving additional empty home premiums (EHPs) from April next year.
Currently, owners of long-term empty homes pay a 50% premium on top of their full council-tax bill.
As previously reported, from April 2020, the premium will now be 100% for properties left for between two and five years and 200% for those longer than five years. An additional 300% premium for homes left empty for more than 10 years will come into force from April 2021.
The report to this week’s meeting provided an overview of the issue of empty homes, the range of measures the council is using to bring them back into use and the challenges.
Figures show that as at November 5, there are 1,985 properties across the county that have been vacant for more than six months (excluding holiday lets and second homes), of which 1,135 are council-tax band A properties.
The top five parishes with the most empty properties are: Blyth – 265; Ashington – 253; Ponteland – 96; Berwick – 79; Cramlington – 70.
However, there are also some areas with smaller numbers, but which would represent a significant proportion of the housing stock, for example, 47 in Choppington, 27 in Corbridge, 26 in Haydon Bridge and 26 in Stannington.
Coun Reid also suggested that the actual numbers of empty homes could be higher given that these numbers came from those homes declared empty for council-tax purposes.
A lot of the discussion focused on Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs), but this is just one of the tools that the council can use and it is an option of last resort, which requires a significant amount of work and time.
EDMOs, which give the local authority the right to take over the management of an empty residential property in certain circumstances, have to be granted by a first-tier tribunal of the Property Chamber and the process takes, on average, 12 months in total.
Therefore, much of the private sector housing team’s work relates to trying to work with landlords to bring properties back into use.
However, where informal action ‘is either ineffective or inappropriate, the council has wide-ranging powers to instigate enforcement action to secure improvements to empty homes’.