At our recent street surgery, David and I were asked a very good question by a ward resident: does the Council know how many flats above shops in Headington are empty, and what steps are being taken to offer them to homeless people?
I have asked officers to investigate this, and this is underway. In the meantime, I have been sent a briefing note on empty dwellings across the City that contains some interesting figures that I thought you might like to see.
Unoccupied and Council Tax Exempt as from 1.07.08
Class Description No.
A Recently built or uninhabitable due to work (time limit of 12 months) 218
B Empty and owned by charities (up to 6 months) 122
C Vacant (empty and unfurnished) (up to 6 months) 434
D Left empty by persons in detention 1
E Left empty by patients in hospitals or care homes 61
F Left empty by deceased person (for up to 6 months after probate) 155
G Unfit for habitation (where occupation prohibited by law) 9
H Unoccupied pending use by a Minister of Religion 1
I Left empty by people receiving care 10
J Left empty by people providing care 6
K Left empty by students where the students remain liable 3
L Unoccupied where the mortgagee is in possession 16
Q Responsibility of a Bankrupt’s Trustees 0
R Unoccupied caravan pitch or house boat mooring 9
T Unoccupied Annexe not capable of separate occupation (e.g. ‘Granny Flat’) 2
All properties falling within the above Council Tax exemption classes would also be exempt from intervention by the Local Housing Authority under the Housing Act 2004 (empty dwellings)
Total empty dwellings 1724
Total exempt empty dwellings for purposes of empty dwelling legislation under Housing Act 2004 1047
Therefore, of the 1724 empty dwellings, 677 may not be exempt from intervention by the Local Housing Authority. However, that figure includes 44 dwellings owned by Oxford City Council which are empty pending demolition, disposal or refurbishment, at least 35 small Housing Association flats which are to be demolished and redeveloped as family accommodation, and numerous other properties which the owners intend to redevelop, remodel or re-let.
In a city of Oxford’s size, and with such a high proportion of transient residents (students, tourists, academics, medical personnel etc), it is inevitable that there will be a constantly shifting body of properties standing empty for various periods of time.
There is, however, a small number of properties (officers believe there are less than fifty) which are and have been empty for considerable periods of time, and where the owners, for one reason or another, have no intention of bringing the properties back into use. It is on these properties that the Council concentrates its efforts of persuasion & enforcement, through the work of the Empty Homes Officer, the Planning Enforcement Team, and officers of Environmental Development.
Here is a case study to show the sort of work that council officers undertake, acting on this data.
A landlord owned two properties in different parts of the city. Both were run down and in need of substantial works. One had suffered an arson attack. The owner had insufficient funds to commence work on either property, and could not sell either without making a substantial loss because of their condition. The Empty Homes Officer met the owner, and arranged for a Planning Officer to visit the burnt-out property. The Planning Officer gave the owner an informal view that the property was suitable for redevelopment into three flats. This enabled the owner to interest a developer, who eventually bought the property at a much better price than the owner had previously been able to ask. This, in turn allowed the owner to carry out remedial work on the second property. The redevelopment went ahead, and there are now four habitable properties where previously there were two pretty derelict buildings.