Reading’s battle against empty homes – One property empty for 23 years

MORE than 1,000 homes sit empty in Reading as figures reveal one has been abandoned for 23 years.

A battle to bring hundreds of these empty homes back into use is ramping up, with new plans being tabled by the council.

Last year, the number of empty homes rose by 48 per cent across Reading – from 387 to 571 – having fallen by 25 per cent the year before.

Reading Borough Council says the increase is largely due to “a glut of unsold/unoccupied new-build flats and slow rates of sales in the retirement leasehold sector”.

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A Freedom of Information request revealed one home in Reading has been registered as empty for 23 years.

RBC 2020-26 empty homes strategy, if approved, will increase its goal of bringing 20 high-priority long-term empty homes back to life up to 30.

The strategy aims to improve neighbourhoods, maximise use of existing homes and solve problems for owners “paralysed by indecision”

RBC’s Housing, Neighbourhoods and Leisure committee will vote on whether to approve the strategy next Wednesday (March 11).

How long are houses staying empty in Reading?

There are around 1,500 unoccupied homes in Reading.

The council concentrates much of its efforts on the 571 that are registered as empty for six month or longer.

Of these homes, 324 have been unoccupied for a year or longer and 122 have been empty for two years or longer.

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One home has been on the list for 23 years.

But RBC says there may be other homes not registered that have been out of action for longer.

How empty homes affect you

RBC receives over 100 empty homes complaints a year, with concerns including the unsightliness of derelict homes, fly-tipping, vandalism, damage to neighbouring property, squatters and fire-setting.

Bringing long-term empty homes back into use can also help to tackle homelessness and meet housing demand.

In November 2019, there were 4,304 people on the council’s housing register waiting for a home. Of these, 146 were classed as homeless.

Other benefits of bringing empty homes back into use outlined in the strategy include:

  • Lower ecological footprint of bringing homes back into use compared to building new ones
  • Owners can earn rental income and their home is more secure
  • Boost to local well-being and increased house prices

Why are there so many empty homes?

Some of the reasons for homes remaining empty for so long include:

  • Unhabitable homes where owners lack money or know how to renovate them
  • Abandoned homes
  • Unclear ownership
  • Owners sitting on properties as investment opportunities
  • Inherited homes that owners do not know about
  • To spite a neighbour or challenge the council or police
  • Owners with deep-rooted attachment to home who cannot bring themselves to do anything with it

One owner of a long-term empty home told the council: “I am not being neglectful of the site but it just that it seems very difficult to make steps forward with any haste or success.”

Another said: “I have a bit of a mental block when it comes to dealing with this property. I don’t even know how to go about finding people to do the work that it needs.”

How does the council help owners to bring their properties back into use?

Grants of up £10,000 are available to owners of homes that have been empty for six months or more for renovations and repairs.

Home improvement loans are also offered, with a five-year fixed term and an interest rate of 5-7 per cent.

The most common way that empty homes come back into use is owners selling their spare home.

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One absentee owner, of a home in Battle ward out of action for two years, told the council: “I can’t begin to praise enough the sterling work the empty homes officer did in helping me.

“My home was out of control and like an anvil around my neck that was preventing me from leading a normal life”.

The council also imposes additional taxes on owners of long-term empty homes.

Homes that have been empty for two years or more are charged a 100 per cent premium on their council tax, while those owning homes empty for 5+ years will pay an extra 200 per cent from 2020/21.

Additionally, from 2021/22, homes that have been empty for more than ten years will pay a 300 per cent premium.

What is the national picture?

Long term empty home numbers fell from 2008 to 2016 nationally, with the greatest drop after the New Homes Bonus scheme, which aims to incentivise housing growth, began.

But numbers have have increased each year since 2016.

The amount of long-term empty homes in Reading has increased by 11per cent from 2016-19 compared to the national average 13per cent increase.

The New Homes Bonus is a grant paid by central government to local councils to incentivise housing growth.