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Local Government Committee calls for introduction of compulsory sales orders to tackle the blight of empty homes

Paul McIlroy via Wikimedia Commons

Local Government Committee calls for introduction of compulsory sales orders to tackle the blight of empty homes

A Holyrood committee is calling on the Scottish Government to introduce compulsory sales orders to tackle the blight of empty homes.

Currently councils have the power to issue compulsory purchase orders for empty properties where it is in the public interest, but the process takes a lot of resources, and in practice is not used often for individual properties.

According to the report, compulsory sales orders would be less resource intensive as they would put the property up sale on the open market, rather than the council having to arrange a buyer to take it over.

The call is part of a series of recommendations made in a Local Government and Communities Committee’s report into Scotland’s empty homes.

According to the most recent figures, from 2018, around 83,435, or three per cent, of Scotland’s 2.62 million homes were empty.

That figure includes all empty properties, such as new houses waiting to be occupied and old buildings waiting to be demolished, as well as long-term empty properties.

According to the 2018 figures, 39,110 homes had been empty for six months or more and 24,471 for a year or more, but the true figure could be even higher when properties which are not

captured through council tax records are factored in.

It is these long-term empty properties that are considered a problem.

The report highlights the negative impact that empty homes have on communities, particularly if they are allowed to fall into disrepair and decay, while high numbers of empty homes are associated with flytipping and other anti-social and criminal behaviour.

Councils currently have the discretion to remove the council tax discount and double the council tax on properties that have been empty for more than a year, but the committee warned that is being over-used by some councils as a revenue-raising tool and its blanket use may in fact be exacerbating the empty homes problem rather than solving it, for example, where the owner is already struggling to fund repairs.

The committee also recommended that all councils should have empty homes officers whose job it is to identify empty homes in their area and bring them back into use.

At present, 21 of Scotland’s 32 councils have an empty homes officer, while four others are considering appointing one.

Other recommendations include use of GIS mapping by councils to get a more accurate picture of empty homes and a review of the Rural and Islands Housing Fund to tackle empty homes in rural communities.

James Dornan, convener of the Local Government and Communities Committee, said: “Empty homes are a blight upon communities across Scotland and represent a wasted resource at a time when housing supply is limited.

“The evidence we have gathered makes it clear there is not a one-size fits all solution to this problem.

“It is not acceptable that the council tax levy is being used by some councils as a revenue raising tool meaning people taking active steps to bring a property back into use can end up being penalised. “We’d encourage more discretion in the use of this levy by local authorities.

“We’d also implore every council to employ an empty homes officer as we’ve seen first-hand the positive impact they can have in bringing empty homes back into use.

“The low take-up of compulsory purchase orders is something we’d like to see reviewed, while we are disappointed that the Scottish Government has not introduced compulsory sales orders which could empower local government to solve empty homes problems in their areas.

“It is also absolutely essential that we tackle empty homes as part of a wider strategy to regenerate town centres, improve housing supply and support vibrant communities.”

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