Why Doesn’t Rochford District Council Use Its Powers to Take Over Empty Homes?

onlineFOCUS readers may remember this article about empty homes – when we have a growing housing register and are told that we need to build build build, we ask “why doesn’t Rochford District Council use its powers to take over empty homes?” Our Councillor & Campaigner James Newport wrote to the Assistant Director at Rochford District Council to see if she could shed any light on the subject and here’s her response in full

On 1 Nov 2018, at 23:58, Louisa.Moss@Rochford.gov.uk wrote:
Dear Cllr Newport,
I am sorry for the delay in responding to your email. I did receive it, but I have been out of the office a lot since and unfortunately I have had limited access to our ICT systems.
With references to your questions, I have added some clarification below and should you wish to discuss further please do not hesitate to contact me on the following  mobile number 0**** 9*****0 (editor note: number omitted for privacy)
I agree the difference in the empty homes figures quoted was not clear and some context should have been given to explain what was being quoted.
·         The >400 figure quoted by BBC Essex was the total number of empty properties which the Council have some control over.
·         The >200 figure quoted in our press release refers to the total number of properties that have been empty for over 1 year.
Formal EDMO action
·         Should the Council obtain a EDMO it needs to be in a good position to incur costs in managing the property. For example, to pay an agent, such as a housing association or a private management company, to look after the property on its behalf.
·         It is inevitable the empty property will need renovation works to get it into a fit state to be lived in, so a significant capital budget will also be needed, to bring empty properties back into use. The Council can seek to recover its expenditure from any rental income it receives from tenants whilst the order is in force i.e. max. 7 years only, so the financial viability would also need to be considered. The council must pay the owner any money that is left over after it has deducted its expenditure and may need to pay interest on this money.
·         EDMOs are governed by a specific set of rules and residential tribunals need to grant permission for an interim order before a final order is made. They are not commonly used, as they are an action of last resort and will normally be considered in authorities where there are dedicated empty homes officers.
·         The Council’s capacity to manage the enforcement of empty homes via e.g. EDMO’s is  very limited and we currently only have 1 FTE Private Sector Housing Officer, which covers all areas of private housing work. With the resources we have, we adopt a more informal approach as per our wider Well Homes Financial Assistance Policy and our empty homes grant.   
·         National Empty Homes week, was an opportunity for us to remind residents of this on going financial empty homes offer.
If you wish to discuss further, please do not hesitate to contact me direct and I apologies again for the delayed response.
Louisa Moss
Assistant Director – Housing & Community Services
Rochford District Council, Council Offices, South Street, Rochford, Essex, SS4 1BW
T: 01702 318095
From: James Newport [mailto:jamesn@onlinefocus.org]
Sent: 22 October 2018 12:53
To: Louisa Moss
Subject: Empty Homes
Dear Louisa,
I hope you are well? I note the press release from RDC regarding the 220 empty homes in the District. I wonder if you could clarify a couple of points for me.
On BBC Essex Radio the figure was put at more than 400 homes and a FOI from Liberal Democrats put the figure at more like 422 in January 2018 for the Rochford District? Could you please clarify the discrepancy on the numbers?
Why haven’t RDC used Empty Dwelling Management Orders in order to address this issue?
I look forward to your response
Kind Regards
James Newport
Based on Ms Moss’ response it would appear the Councils position on tackling this problem is due to a lack of resource. However, we would argue that the Council has put SIGNIFICANT resource into other FAILED projects through the Investment Board and perhaps they should consider whether they’d have more success in tackling the empty homes, than trying to develop their housing!
We’re not convinced that a lack of resource can be used as reasonable justification and with £9m in reserves and it would seem it is just not a priority for the Conservative-controlled council to give Ms Moss’ department the budget they need.