Drop in empty homes pleasing, but thousands still remain vacant

While thousands of homes around Suffolk remain vacant, there has been a 3% fall in the total over th

While thousands of homes around Suffolk remain vacant, there has been a 3% fall in the total over the last year Picture: TIM IRELAND/PRESS ASSOCIATION - Credit: PA

Suffolk appears to have bucked a national trend by cutting back the number of long-term vacant homes across the county.

Government data showed 3% fewer homes stood empty for more than six months of the past year.

In numbers, the total fell by just 81 from 2,698 in 2018 and remains worryingly high for campaigners.

Ipswich recorded a 6.5% drop (368 to 344), while Babergh saw a 10.8% fall (306 to 273), and Mid Suffolk’s total fell 11% (283 to 252).

East and West Suffolk councils, each formed from two smaller authorities last year, saw a 0.36% fall and 1.8% rise, respectively.

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Nationally, the total rose for a third year, following the end of a government programme of support, including grants and loans, to offset tax increases and bring empty homes back into use.

Chris Bailey, campaign manager for Action on Empty Homes, said: “It is great to see numbers in Suffolk drop but we share local authorities’ concerns that enforcement powers are weak and over-reliant on council tax premiums to incentivise owners to bring homes back into use.

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“Another issue for many councils is the huge number of second homes, many of which are not used but are not charged any council tax premium no matter how long they stay unused.”

An Ipswich Borough Council spokesman said any fall in empty homes was pleasing, adding: “Restoring empty properties to use is one of our priorities and we offer advice and support to owners but will consider compulsory purchase as a last resort.”

Jools Ramsey, chief executive of Ipswich Housing Action Group, called for more affordable options for those starting out or moving from supported accommodation, and for consistent, long-term support when people become rental tenants, adding: “Rents in Ipswich are high, and although there is a Local Housing Allowance for people claiming benefit, for many this will not cover 100% of the rent.

“When someone does then move into work, their universal credit is significantly reduced or withdrawn. This means they are then liable for the full rent, which for many people who have a single or low income will prove difficult.

“Affordable housing is not just private rented, but also social housing. Housing associations and the local authority should, and in some cases do commit to building new social housing to accommodate those who can not afford private rented property.”

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