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Homes empty for two years or more could be seized and sold in tough New Forest District Council strategy

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HOMES in the New Forest that have lain empty for more than two years could be seized and sold by the district council.

The tough approach is one of several ideas proposed by the authority in its new draft Empty Homes Strategy for 2021-2026 to help it tackle a desperate shortage of housing.

It has gained the support of the council's housing and homelessness overview and scrutiny panel and been endorsed by Cllr Jill Cleary, NFDC's cabinet member for housing services.

Cllr Jill Cleary, NFDC cabinet member for housing services, has backed the scheme
Cllr Jill Cleary, NFDC cabinet member for housing services, has backed the scheme

She wants to cut the lengthy housing waiting list and stop youngsters moving away amid large house prices.

In her foreword to the draft document, she said: "The council recognises that for the neighbours of empty properties they can often generate concerns regarding potential anti-social behaviour, fly tipping, vermin and the visual impact on their neighbourhood.

"It is important that the council works proactively to engage, influence and encourage owners of long-term empty properties to support them return properties back in to use."

Currently there are 193 properties locally unoccupied for 24 months or more within the New Forest district.

Options open to NFDC as part of its new strategy include using enforcement action to seize control of unsightly, empty homes and make improvements before forcing a sale to pay off the work debts or taking over an unoccupied property and leasing it out.

If NFDC exhausts attempts to trace owners of empty homes, it may use compulsory purchase orders to sell them on the open market.

NFDC will also establish an empty home catalogue, make site visits, monitor short-term empty homes, and engage with owners.

It will prioritise homes that require structural attention and attempt to agree a plan of action, provide letting advice and offer the property to be included in the council’s private sector lease scheme.

NFDC may also use loan funding to support owners to return homes to use.

The draft strategy said: "Following the offer of support and advice, where properties continue to remain empty and cause problems in the long term, enforcement actions may be considered when other interventions fail."

The new measures are designed to complement the council’s existing housing strategies. It already charges properties empty for two years a 100% premium on top of its full council tax charge.

Those unoccupied for five years or more have a 150% premium.

NFDC can reduce the costs if the owner is genuinely taking steps to sell or let the property or there are exceptional circumstances.

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