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Layla Moran calls for City Council to “step up”

Layla Moran calls for City Council to “step up”. Image: Oxford residents and local homeless people dropping an enormous banner from the front of the old VW garage on Iffley Road in January 2017.
Oxford residents (including Oxford University students and alumni) and local homeless people dropping an enormous banner from the front of the old VW garage on Iffley Road in January 2017. The building had been empty for two years.

Layla Moran, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, has called for Oxford City Council to “step up” after an investigation revealed that almost 47,000 homes have been left vacant nationwide for over 5 years, 27 of which are in Oxford.

The figures collated from over 300 local authorities across the country from Freedom of Information requests by the Liberal Democrats also reveal that 12,889 homes have been empty for 10 years or more, while 313,792 homes have been empty for more than 6 months.

Results of this investigation come after new government statistics revealed that 127,000 children faced being homeless at New Year.

The investigation revealed that Oxford City Council has 6 homes that have been empty for ten years or more and 27 empty for five years or more. 545 are currently considered to be “long-term” empty, defined as "empty for over six months".

As part of the Liberal Democrat commitment to alleviate the housing crisis, they are calling for legislation to allow authorities to increase council tax by up to 500% where properties are being left empty long-term. Revenues from this tax would be used to build new homes for the community or to invest in local services.

Commenting, Layla Moran said: "Communities up and down the country, including our own, are being torn apart because affluent owners are treating these properties as financial assets.

"Instead, these homes could be turned into affordable places to live for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. We are in the midst of a housing crisis here in Oxfordshire, and the city council needs to step up to play its part in fixing it.

“People deserve better. That's why Liberal Democrats are demanding councils are given the powers and resources we set out in our manifesto to bring empty homes back into use."

In a seperate statement by Oxford City Council, Councillor Mike Rowley, cabinet member for affordable housing said: "Given the scarcity and cost of housing in Oxford we can ill afford perfectly decent homes remaining empty so we’ve employed an empty homes officer since 2005. National figures show that Oxford City Council is in the top 20% of better performing councils for bringing empty homes back into use.

"Our preferred approach is to engage with and encourage owners and executors but we will consider enforcement action where someone is unable or unwilling to bring a home back into use."

The council's statement says there are currently 438 empty homes in Oxford, 116 of which have been empty because of major renovations or the death of the owner, 230 for between six months and two years, with the remaining 92 unoccupied for more than two years. It adds that in 2018/19, the City Council intervention brought 21 empty homes back into use and a further 20 properties have been brought back into use since April 2019.

The Liberal Democrat investigation revealed that Oxford City Council had not used Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMO) in the past five years.

EDMOs allow local authorities to take over an unoccupied property if it is satisfied that the dwelling has been wholly unoccupied for at least 6 months (or such longer period as may be prescribed), and there is no reasonable prospect of it becoming occupied soon. EDMOs bridge the gap between voluntary measures and existing compulsory purchase powers.

Councils also have the power to increase council tax charges by up to 100% on dwellings empty for over 2 years and Oxford City Council have adopted this additional charge since April 2018.