Stafford Borough Council created an empty homes officer post to tackle the issue of homes that remain unoccupied for several months or years. And the full time role, which is currently vacant, is set to be continued for a further three years to enable even more vacant properties to be filled.
A report to the council’s cabinet said: “There are several reasons why properties become empty. These include the death or ill health of an owner, the property being subject to probate or other legal disputes, or a landlord being unwilling or unable to let the property.
“An owner may also be unable or unwilling to sell a property or have inherited it and not know what to do with it. The reasons as to why a home is empty is often complex, having a dedicated officer to help unravel these complexities is paramount.
“Short term vacant properties are re-occupied relatively quickly and are necessary for the housing market to function. These properties rarely require intervention to bring them back into use; they are generally reoccupied within six months. The council is keen to stop short term empty properties from becoming long term, problematic empties.
“Longer term vacancies are properties that have remained empty for over six months. These are the ones that often trigger complaints from neighbours and can become detrimental to the neighbourhood and the economy, especially as the length of time unoccupied increases.”
The number of empty homes in the borough has fallen from 2,511 in 2016 to 2,030 in 2021. And long-term vacancies fell from 543 to 382 during the same period.
In November a home which had been empty for more than 13 years in Tixall Road, Stafford, was sold at auction after the council was granted consent by the Government to make a Compulsory Purchase Order. Its previous owner died in 2013 and the authority was unable to trace any next of kin despite extensive searches.
Cabinet members agreed on Thursday for £75,000 from the council’s empty homes budget to be used towards funding the officer role.
Deputy leader Councillor Mike Smith said: “At the end of 2017 the Empty Homes Officer was approved by cabinet and put in post for a two-year term from July 2018. With a number of adjustments over the intervening period that post has been filled until the end of last year.
“During this period the borough has seen a reduction of empty homes from 2,362 to 2,030. However the focus of this role is the more problematic long-term empty homes which blight communities and often become the source of antisocial behaviour. These have reduced from 546 to 382 in the same period.
“It’s fundamentally not right to continue to build brand new homes when there is perfectly good housing stock in the borough which is not being adequately used and negatively impacting on communities. Therefore, through the work of this officer and a number of other partners including some homeowners, council tax team, housing management and letting agents, there has been considerable success in getting homes back into use.
“The most high-profile case, which was widely reported at the end of last year, was a house that had been empty after the owner had sadly passed away with no next of kin identified. That property will be a great new home for someone within the next 18 months.
“Although an element of the original budget was set aside for capital this has become secondary to the work of the officer bringing together action to get homes back into use. Therefore the cabinet member would like to recommend profiling of the remaining budget to create a three-year fixed term post, where the progress made to date can be built on to continue to reduce the number of empty homes in the borough.”
Councillor Carolyn Trowbridge said: “This an absolutely excellent role. Even one empty home next door can be absolutely awful, so I can’t praise this enough.
“I hope we keep this empty homes officer until we have no empty homes in the borough.”