Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by the East Riding of Yorkshire Council (EMP 21)



  The East Riding of Yorkshire Council is the largest unitary authority in England and is predominantly rural in nature. There are a number of concentrated areas of deprivation caused by the decline in seaside resorts and traditional industrial areas. The East Riding is committed to maximising the potential of the housing stock and in bringing empty homes back into use. To this end the Council has developed a package of tools for this purpose.


    —  Increased pressure on Greenfield site development to provide housing.

    —  Pressure on existing housing stock: lack of accommodation, especially affordable accommodation, in rural areas within commuter access of cities.

    —  Blight and neighbourhood degeneration in areas of low demand either due to people leaving the area or properties of a size unsuitable for current demand.

    —  Crime and anti-social behaviour.

    —  Devaluation of surrounding properties and reduced possibility of sale of adjacent property.


  Empty homes are found in villages and towns across the East Riding. For each property there is a unique set of reasons as to why it is empty. Some examples are:

    —  Owners reluctant to let the property.

    —  Owners keeping property for retirement.

    —  Owners unable to let.

    —  Property inherited and owners unsure what to do with it.

    —  Limited or no market for selling or letting in present condition.

    —  Second home or holiday home.

    —  Disrepair and owner unable to renovate due to financial reasons.

    —  Owners unaware of advice and financial assistance that is available.

    —  Areas of low demand for private sector renting/ownership.


    —  Lack of clear information as to the ability or otherwise to make use of council tax data for identifying owners of empty homes.

    —  Length of time taken to undertake a CPO under current procedures (s 17 Housing Act 1985). There is a need for a fast-track procedure for councils when pursuing a CPO as part of a published corporate empty property strategy.

    —  No financial disincentive/penalty for owners of long-term empty property who are unwilling or refuse to bring them back into productive use.

    —  Lack of clarification as to the content of the source list to determine the baseline number of empty properties that have been vacant for more than six months for the purposes of the best value performance indicator 64.


  The problem of empty homes exists across the whole country, in areas of high housing demand by their waste, they deny people a home and increase development pressure on edge of town and greenfield sites. In areas of low demand they create areas of dereliction and decay attracting crime and anti-social behaviour and devaluing surrounding properties. The pressures and the possible solutions vary from region to region, indeed from neighbourhood to neighbourhood across England. The focus until recently has been based in the South and Midlands. It is becoming increasingly recognised that the north faces issues, which cannot be resolved by those solutions, which are effective in the south, where there is greater housing demand.

    —  Use of information—there is currently confusion as to whether information about empty homes ie in particular the personal contact details of empty property owners held on a Council Tax Database can be used by the collecting local authority for any purpose other than the collection and administration of Council Tax under the 1992 Local Government & Finance Act. The Data Protection Registrar has supplied opinion to suggest that any such use, as part of an empty property strategy is not acceptable. However some local authorities have obtained counsel's opinion indicating that under the Local Government Act 2000 the general consent for councils to pursue any policy to further the economic, social or environmental well being of local residents takes precedent. This situation is counterproductive and does not facilitate "joined up" thinking. Furthermore when instigating dialogue with the owner of an empty property the other means available to an empty property practitioner to secure an owner's details are both lengthy and not as reliable. This in turn can lead to problems in the longer term if Compulsory Purchase or Enforced Sale become the final sanctions in returning a property to occupation.

    —  100 per cent council tax campaign—the East Riding of Yorkshire Council has an estimated 1,900 second homes. Currently owners are charged a maximum of 50 per cent of the Council Tax. The underwriting message could be that there is a financial incentive for second homeowners. Whilst children of residents in the same village (hidden households) are prevented from accessing affordable accommodation due to artificially inflated house prices.

    This Authority would welcome a discretionary power for Councils to charge up to 100 per cent Council Tax on long term empties in its area and for further discretion for this authority to be able to set its own definition of what is long term empty in relation to the local housing market.

    —  The planning system and capacity building—The Yorkshire and Humberside regional housing requirements to 2016 (as set out in the emerging Regional Planning Guidance) has taken account of the anticipated number of empty homes across the region. It has therefore been dealt with in the housing requirement figure rather than being considered by individual authorities across the region as one of the factors contributing or adding to (depending on whether the level of empty homes is decreasing or increasing) the housing requirement figure. This approach has precluded this Council (and others in the region) dealing with it as an element of Urban Capacity, which the Government's Good Practice Guide on this topic advises we should.


  The East Riding of Yorkshire Council welcomes the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions Select Committee inquiry into empty homes. The scope of the inquiry is broad ranging and stands to highlight the far reaching implications of properties that are left empty in the long term, and the resulting effects of this in areas of low demand and associated slow decline.

Sue Dixon

Senior Environmental Health Officer

Housing Standards Team

September 2001

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