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Tackling long term vacant properties

Published: 17/06/2014

Flintshire County Council could begin to force sales of private properties if a new policy is approved at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday (17 June). The Enforced Sales Policy will mean that the Council can use the legislation to help solve the problem of rundown, vacant properties in the County and at the same time recover substantial outstanding debts. The council is pursuing this route as it aims to reduce the number of long term vacant property across the county from the current figure of 469. Flintshire County Council has always prioritised this area of activity and was one of the first counties in Wales to have an Empty Homes Development Officer and a specific pot of monies in support of renovation and refurbishment. The Enforced Sales Policy will be an additional tool to those already employed such as other enforcement action to improve property and in some cases direct financial support to owners who wish to bring their properties up to a lettable standard. Once approved, the Council will be allowed to put a long term vacant property up for auction to pay off relevant debts, allowing it to then work with the new owner to ensure its reoccupation. These debts could include council tax arrears, social care charges and any other debt for work carried out and funded by the council as a result of exercising powers to repair or improve the property. The only way the property owner could prevent a sale would be to repay the debt. There are currently a small number of properties across Flintshire, where use of this power would be appropriate. These are properties for which all other interventions have failed, due to a lack of cooperation by the owner and enforced sale is therefore a last resort. One property in the County has social care charges in excess of £40,000, where the previous owner and recipient of care is now deceased. The family are unwilling to sell the property, as they wish to live in it, but are unable to fund the cost to make it habitable. Councillor Helen Brown, Cabinet Member for Housing said: “If this policy is approved the Council can start bringing more vacant properties back into use, with the added benefit of recovering debts owed. It is no longer acceptable for properties to remain empty when the need for housing is increasing. With this policy the Council can begin moving forward to address the issue of vacant homes whilst also recovering monies it is owed.”