THE number of empty private houses in the Winchester district has increased sharply, but city councillors say the problem is getting better.

That is because there are now fewer homes which have been empty for more than two years, a committee heard.

In 2015 there were 307 empty properties. This year the number has risen to 407, an increase of around 30 per cent. However, the number of houses empty for more than three years has dropped by 40 per cent from 78 to 42.

Cllr Paula Ferguson, deputy leader and cabinet member for community and housing, told the housing and business policy committee that empty homes can "blight a neighbourhood by being empty for a long time."

READ MORE HERE: Civic chiefs take action over empty home

One reason for the decline in long-term empty houses is that owners pay higher council tax if properties are unused for more than two years.

The council has a policy of encouraging houses to be used but can ultimately take enforcement action and seek an empty dwelling management order (EDMO). It has used it once, in March 2020 for a house in Harrow Down, Badger Farm, that had been neglected for ten years.

The EDMO gives the council control of a property for seven years. The council refurbished the property at a cost of £50,000 and has since let it to a family. They are not council tenants but on a shorthold tenancy.

When the order expires in 2027 the property will be returned to the owner. The rental incomes will have covered the cost of the refurbishment, said Kevin Reed, private sector housing team leader at the council.

In 2021-22 the council received nine complaints about empty homes.

Cllr Fiona Isaacs, who represent Alresford and the Itchen Valley, said the current empty homes policy could be unfair. She knew of a one-parent family hit by lockdown that had to move for home schooling reasons. The mother of two was unable to rent out the property as estate agents were closed at first and then dealing with a huge backlof of work. She had been panlised as the council "could not acknowledge that Covid happened."

The council is drawing up an empty homes strategy 2022-27.


Message from the editor

Thank you for reading this story. We really appreciate your support.

Please help us to continue bringing you all the trusted news from your area by sharing this story or by following our Facebook page.