More than 3,000 Wigan homes are standing empty

Thousands of properties are sitting empty in Wigan each year, while households in the area continue to be faced with homelessness, figures show.

Friday, 10th December 2021, 2:18 pm

Campaigners say abandoned dwellings should be repurposed to tackle England’s housing crisis, after councils across the country recorded hundreds of thousands of empty homes.

Figures from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities show there were at least 3,285 empty properties in Wigan at the most recent count in October – down 10 per cent from 3,648 last year.

Of those, 1,523 had been gathering dust for six months or more, and at least 599 had been abandoned for more than two years.

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A large number of borough homes have been vacant for longer than six months

The figures, which cover properties subject to council tax, also show 467 dwellings in the area were listed as second homes last month.

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Different DLUHC figures show in 2020-21, 2,105 households in Wigan were entitled to council support after becoming homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Jo Willmott, Director for Homes and Communities, said: “We are continuing our focused efforts to bring empty homes back into use through a number of initiatives, which have already helped the Council to sustain its exemplary record in reducing the number of empty homes in the borough.

Campaigners draw attention to the number of rough sleepers and the number of empty properties

“Early and continual engagement with landlords is at the heart of the approach and we are working pro-actively to track down the legal owners of properties, working with them to bring empty homes back into use and provide advice and guidance to bring properties up to a high standard, making homes more desirable to both private renters and buyers.

“Our first port of call is always to work with landlords and to understand their individual circumstances. However, where landlords are uncooperative or absent, there are levers available to us that we can use to reach a positive outcome.

“If you have an empty home in the borough we’d encourage you to get in touch via our website to discuss your options: https://www.wigan.gov.uk/Contacts/Private-sector-housing.aspx”

The Local Government Association has called on the Government to give local authorities greater powers to acquire empty homes

A spokesman for the LGA, which represents councils, said: “At a time when we face a chronic housing shortage across the country and high levels of homelessness, it is wrong for so many homes to be left empty.”

Across England, the number of empty homes – dwellings that are unoccupied and unfurnished – fell by two per cent to 468,000, while the number of second homes dropped by four per cent to 253,300 after rising by the same percentage in October last year.

Owners of properties which have laid empty for two years or more can be charged an extra 100 per cent council tax on top of their bill – rising to as much as 300 per cent if the home has been empty for a decade or longer.

Nationally, around 72,000 dwellings were subject to a council tax premium in October, around a fifth of which had been abandoned for between five and 10 years and 10 per cent for more than a decade.

In 2020-21, councils across the country identified more than 268,000 households as homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Polly Neate, chief executive of housing charity Shelter, said the country’s housing emergency is ruining lives, adding that it was deeply frustrating to see properties sitting empty “when so many people are in desperate need of a safe and secure home”.

She said more should be done to put empty homes back into use but added: “Even if we filled every one of these empty properties, we still wouldn’t have solved the chronic housing shortage we face.

“The only way to solve the housing crisis is to build a new generation of green social housing.”

A Government spokesman said more than 243,000 new homes were delivered last year, with £12bn being invested in affordable housing over five years.

He said the number of empty homes had fallen by 30,000 since 2010, adding: “We have taken significant action to prevent empty homes.

“This includes giving councils stronger powers to increase council tax on empty homes and take over their management, and introducing higher rates of stamp duty and tightening tax rules for second homes.”

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