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Empty homes power reluctance revealed

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Councils have taken over only 15 empty homes since they gained the power to do so in April 2006, housing minister Margaret Beckett has told Parliament.

Empty dwelling management orders allow councils to take over homes and rent them out, though they do not acquire ownership.

Figures given by Ms Beckett showed that Lewisham LBC had issued five orders, Norwich City Council three and seven other councils had issued one each.

David Ireland, chief executive of the Empty Homes Agency, a charity that promotes the use of vacant property, said many councils had scored successes simply by threats to use an order.

“Once a council starts to prepare an order owners will often voluntarily resolve the problem and bring property back into use,” he said.

“Manchester City Council has done that in about 40 cases and it’s quite a success story, but I don’t think most other councils have done the same.”

Mr Ireland said councils had been reluctant to use the orders because the homes concerned normally needed costly renovations.

“Councils can recover those costs from rent paid, but they have to make a big investment upfront and there was never extra money for that,” he said.

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