Pickles acts to protect the rights of homeowners

Nia Williams

January 10, 2011

In 2006, the previous Government introduced ‘Empty Dwelling Management Orders’. They allow councils to take over properties that have been empty for as little as six months:

the home does not have to be blighted or boarded up to be taken over, just empty for six months – including homes of the deceased

councils have the right to seize furniture, fixtures and fittings, when the home is taken over, including where the home has been left empty for a period after the owner has died

homes already on the property market can be seized if councils believe the asking price is “unrealistic”.

In order to protect civil liberties, Mr Pickles has introduced safeguards to restrict the use of Empty Dwelling Management Orders:

they will be limited to empty properties that have become magnets for vandalism, squatters and other forms of anti-social behaviour – blighting the local neighbourhood

a property will have to stand empty for at least two years before an Empty Dwelling Management Order can be obtained, and property owners will have to be given at least three months’ notice before the order can be issued.

Mr Pickles is concerned that councils have used the Orders to instigate action against homeowners that is inappropriate, including against people in vulnerable situations. Councils have, for example, attempted to use the powers against a homeowner whilst she was caring for her injured daughter in France; to take over an Order being used against the house of a 96 year old as soon as he passed away in a nursing home; and against a divorcee, who faced action because he only lived in the property at weekends to visit his estranged children.

These new safeguards will ensure that responsible homeowners do not face having their properties seized. Mr Pickles said it is wrong that a bereaved family could face having their loved one’s home seized for a period if there is a delay in them deciding what to do with it.

The move comes as the Government prepares to introduce wider plans to bring back into use many of the 300,000 properties in England that have been empty for a long period of time.

From next year, councils will have a new incentive to bring empty properties back into use through a New Homes Bonus, under which the Government will match the council tax raised from any council tax collected from a property that previously stood empty.

Commenting, Communities and Local Government Secretary, Eric Pickles, said: “There is a case for action to put boarded-up and blighted properties back into use. But these draconian and heavy-handed state powers have allowed councils to seize private homes in perfect condition, including their fixtures and fittings, just because the homes have been empty for a short while.

“The Coalition Government is standing up for the civil liberties of law-abiding citizens. Fundamental human rights include the right to property. People suffering the loss of a loved one should not have to endure the added indignity of having their home seized because of a delay in them deciding what to do with it.

“That’s why the new Government is introducing new safeguards that mean the rights of responsible homeowners will be protected, while allowing action to be taken against genuine derelict buildings which blight neighbourhoods.”

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