Council monitoring 1,551 long term empty homes in Thanet

Tackling the issue of empty homes (stock image via istock/Crix)

Thanet council deputy leader Helen Whitehead has revealed the isle currently has 1,551 long term empty homes being monitored by the authority.

Of these 1,540 are in private ownership and 11 properties belong to the council. Seven of the council homes are fire damaged, three are welfare units and one is currently under consideration for future housing plans.

Cllr Whitehead gave the figures during a council meeting last week in response to a query from Green councillor Tricia Austin who said: “With rising rents and mortgage costs and a shortage of affordable homes we know many residents are struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

“Meanwhile we are also aware of empty homes in the district and the simplest, most cost effective and sustainable way to increase housing supply is to make sure those are filled.”

Cllr Austin asked how many homes are empty and what is being done to get them back in use.

Cllr Whitehead said she disagreed that bringing empty homes back into use is the simplest and cheapest way to increase the housing supply, adding: “ If that were true, councils across the country would not be facing significant numbers of empty properties.”

She said council powers were different for public and for private homes,

She added: “Empty properties within our portfolio can and will be brought back into usage; we have legal ownership and can take action to make that happen.

“In terms of our ownership, we currently have 11 properties that would be classified as empty properties. Seven of these are fire damaged; three are welfare units, and one is currently under consideration for future housing plans.

“These properties can be brought back into use or already have future use, and we will be acting to ensure that they fulfil a very necessary social use.”

Cllr Whitehead said the number of long-term empty private properties was 1,540. These are homes registered as unoccupied and unfurnished for more than six months on the Council Tax register.

She broke this down as:

Properties empty for under two years 953

Two to five years 112

five to 10 years 40

Over 10 years 19.

The combined number as of 03 July 2023 was 1,124.

Added to these are:

Empty homes undergoing structural alterations and major repairs which are eligible for a 12-month discount 112.

And a further 315 properties empty for more than six months for varying reasons, but primarily as they are awaiting probate.

Cllr Whitehead said: “Properties owned by private individuals are not within our jurisdiction in the same way, and our powers are exceedingly limited in terms of direct actions that we can take to bring them back into usage; and the reason for the existence of empty properties is often not simple, frequently involving complex probate, issues of capacity, and illness.

“Lengthy multi agency approaches, often spanning years, are often necessary to bring even severely dilapidated homes into use; and a property in private ownership simply being empty, without linked dilapidation or significant social disruption, is not grounds to bring it into public hands, as they are considered private assets, with legal protections relating to that.”

The total of 1,551 is higher than the figures for the previous three years which recent data from the No Use Empty scheme says was:

Source No Use Empty

Thanet council’s Empty Homes Plan 2020-23 (published December 2020) says: “Empty and derelict properties have an adverse effect on neighbourhoods. They are often unsightly and can attract crime and anti-social behaviour such as squatting, arson, graffiti and fly-tipping. They may also affect the value of neighbouring properties by creating an impression of neglect and decline within a community.

“Communities are less likely to flourish and prosper in areas where multiple empty properties are in close proximity. Such properties are not only eyesores and a source of neighbourhood distress, they are a wasted resource in a time of ever growing housing demand. Many people cannot access good housing, yet many homes stand vacant.”

The council has an empty homes officer who works with owners to bring properties back into use, via the No Use Empty scheme.

This is initially through informal approaches although enforcement action, such as compulsory purchase; carrying out works and then putting a charge on the building; enforced sale as a means of recovering a debt owed to the council (such as a debt resulting from works-in-default) or an EDMO when the council takes over the property to secure essential repairs and reoccupation.

Cllr Austin also suggested looking at converting empty commercial properties into homes but Cllr Whitehead said there could be issues with quality and energy efficiency.

No Use Empty loans

Cllr Whitehead said: “We offer loans and support via No Use Empty to bring properties requiring work back into usage; this has been very successful.

“We have also previously increased council tax on long term empty properties to up to three times standard rate, dependent on how long the property is empty; these all act as incentives to bring property back into use.

“Our target for the 2023/24 year is to help bring 120 long term empty homes back into use; our empty properties officer works incredibly hard, and we will continue to support those efforts.

“Although the overall number of empty properties is often quoted, it is also very worth noting that over the past 15 years our council has been the most successful local authority in the whole of Kent in terms of empty property interventions and in the number of homes brought back into use.”

What’s on offer

The No Use Empty scheme offers loans of up to £25,000 for anyone wishing to renovate a property that has been empty for six months or more.  Find out more information on the No Use Empty web site. 

An ‘Owner Occupier Loan’ initiative developed by Thanet council in partnership with KCC’s No Use Empty Team offers an interest free loan of up to a maximum of £20,000 to individual(s) who have purchased a home which has been empty for more than six months within  Margate Central and Cliftonville West. The property must be occupied by them on completion of works for a minimum of five years.

Find out more from the Empty Homes Team on 01843 577059.

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  1. So, tell me again why the Council employ empty homes officers when the problem is clearly getting worse ? There’s a quick saving right there.

    • Cliftonville high street is a prime example of the empty properties blighting Thanet. The top end of the high street is thriving but there are absolutely stacks of vacant properties near the Labour Party office that have been vacant for decades. They might be retail properties but they could soon be turned into flats or homes. Why have they allowed to be left in such a dire state? The owners need to be fined and prosecuted for allowing their properties to fall into such disrepair.

  2. Fire damage properties. Do you not insure these homes. If your that desperate for homes surely you would get them refibish with your insurance provider footing the bill.

  3. Councils are outbid by the Home Office for homes for migrants its in the national press today. Clear Springs are offering a 2000 pound introduction fee and paying rents hundreds of pounds over the local authority allowance.

  4. The Empty Homes Agency figures for 2021 were 877 and 1033 for Thanet
    long term empties BUT for non-prime occupation 1733 increasing to 1907, giving a rate of 4.29% (or one in 25) with AirBnB having something to answer for – Thanet’s rate is more than twice England’s at 4.29% and Thanet is easily the most ‘under occupied’ in East Kent. On the face of it, if we have 6,000 (?) regarded as ‘homeless’ and averaging say 2.5 per household a more vigorous No Use Empty and AirBnB policy would dissolve the problem – providing early refurbishing employment for local tradesmen to boot. If you then consider for example the ‘brownfield’ opportunities to hand such as RNID, Laleham School, SAGA sites (and the perenniel ‘wilding garden’ at Westbrook Tesco) you begin to wonder what the imperative was to sanction 450 executive houses at Shottendane was, despoiling greenfield but promoting the ‘Developer’s Charter’ identified by no less than the Labour spokesmen in the Great Anti Algorithm Debate of 6 October 2020, and disregarding the new non-Stalinesque ‘locally led’ Local Plan upon which we are yet to be consulted with no apparent consideration given to Climate Change and water security. Perhaps the forecast local fertility increase is related to the exodus of Pfizer ?
    The whole of East Kent has approaching 4,000 long term empties and should be lobbying harder for appropriate funds – rather more sensible than forever encroaching on prime agricultural land ? And of course following Cornwall and N Yorks with robust AirBnB controls – has saturation point been surpassed there ?

    • Being on the coast in an area that’s become more popular it’s hardly surprising we have a hogher than average number of airbnb type properties, try and book something on a weekend that dreamland has an event. It’s not uncommon for there to be nothing available accomodation wise this side of minster. TDC has a problem in that if they act against airbnb style homes, they risk making thanet less attractive for visitors and reduce footfall for events and businesses. Though of course it also means hotel operators are less lokely to invest in the area unless there are controls.
      The 112 that have an exemption for major works are surely no problem as they are assumedly neing bought back into use, which is more than can be said for tdc fire damaged property. Probate is a legal requirement and again is no indication that the property is being purposefully kept out of use.
      A breakdown of how long the properties empty for less than two years would be helpful, how many of these are homes that are being refurbished but don’t qualify for a council tax exemption. How many others are empty and up for sale for whatever reason? I’d hazard a guess that the real number of homes neing kept empty for no good reason is around the 800 mark in the chart. Out of thanets approximate 100,000 homes is that really so bad?

  5. As Supachip points out the fire damaged Council homes would have been insured so why haven’t they been rebuilt?

    How long have they been in a state of disrepair, as long as the Winter Gardens, the Motor Museum etc.?

    Property management at TDC appears to be in a mess.

    It appears to be another case of desktop management, fining property owners to do up their homes with extortionate Council Tax to boost the coffers.

    Whatever happened to compulsory purchase?

    Let’s not forget that TDC incentivises private landlords and pays the new higher rents with discretionary top-ups.

    What criteria is used to assess these awards and if more tenants and landlords knew about this process instead of condemning people to homelessness would this save the on costs of homelessness and the damage it causes to people’s lives and especially children whose education and health is extremely vulnerable.

    Where are the additional sheltered homes for the elderly and people with disabilities?

    Meanwhile, Council Leader wants to throw cash at the Winter Gardens to make up for all the years that it hasn’t been properly maintained by TDC. Talk about vanity project – that and Parkway Station.

    I am heartily sick of this ongoing disaster that is so-called local Government.

    • Tonight on the BBC Red pages states the kcc would not of invested 10 million on the thanet parkway if asked today . They were releying on more houses being built more locally. Would that mean manston

  6. How many of these are actual houses/flats, and how many are spaces above shops that would likely need a lot of work to make safely accessible with separate access to the ground floor ?

  7. Start with demolition and rebuild, beginning in Margate, filthy and odisgusting place with dangerous broken pavements and overgrown with weeds, stink of pee and dirty nappies. And outside the council office the steps and bus stops need a good scrub, could go on but I won’t, I’m sure someone else will.

    • Try a walk on a warm day at the top end of margate high street, gives the olfactory senses a bit of a workout. Then have a poke around in some of the black bags dumped in alleys and neglected corners, won’t take long to find a festering nappy.

      • You were suggesting that the author of a previous comment had a problem with their sense of smell because they said thats what could be found ( smell of old nappies) in the high street. I’m suggesting that you could test the veracity of their claim by looking in a few irresponsibly dumped bags of rubbish. If you’re unwilling to do so then perhaps accepting their claim as being valid is not unreasonable.

    • Well said Fred – MM Rees has rose tinted glasses and not getting out enough – I have lived in Thanet for 40 years and Margate/ Cliftonville dreadful compared to care shown when I first moved here.

  8. Thanet Parkway : this was trumpeted at the Kent Business Conference by Roger Gough as the ‘plum and pearl’ of East Kent Revival (he had to find something to say after a very dynamic presentation from the Medway Director of Place !) Unfortunately the Working From Home phenomenon has seen a third fall in commuter traffic generally which will have ki-boshed the Parway economics and the likes of RMT etc are not exactly promoting the market. Whether there is any synergy with the Airport (as the KCC report Growth Without Gridlock seemed to imply some years back) remains open. But we have enough white elephants to form a menagerie.

  9. I know a couple who rent their home their landlord died he used to call once a fortnight to collect their rent, since he died they have never paid a penny in rent, no one has ever contacted them since the landlord died. They still save the rent each fortnight just in case someone one day turns up for it. Their landlord died 9 years ago.

    • Good luck to them. If it were me i’d be spending the rent on improving the property the way i wanted it to be.

    • So the landlord must of not had any relitves. After 9 years they must of acquired quite a nest egg. Trouble is who’s holding the deeds to the property. Best to keep your head down until that day when a long lost relitves comes knocking.

  10. the land in Thanet is Grade 1 farmland and the best in the country so why on earth are we concreting it over when properties are available? It’s utter madness and legalised vandalism!

  11. New build .Claim all the vat back . So your saving 20% on your investment. You can’t claim all the vat back on Refurbished properties. So developers will always go new more profit.

    • In addition a landlord building property to rent out cannot claim back vat either, so better to buy an existing property, another tax that disadvantages landlords and by extension the wider market.

  12. What is Starmer going to do about legislation to address this problem? If properties are left unoccupied for years, they should be confiscated without payment – but Starmer is a covert Tory

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