There are at least 1,342 vacant properties in Somerset West and Taunton amid a nationwide “housing crisis”.
The chief executive of the Shelter charity said it was frustrating to see empty properties across the country “when so many people are in desperate need of safe and secure housing.”
Figures from the Department of Leveling, Housing and Communities show that there were at least 1,342 empty homes in the local authority area as of the last count in October.
Empty houses are unoccupied, unfurnished accommodation.
Of these, 758 have been empty for more than six months and at least 162 have been abandoned for more than two years.
The number of empty dwellings in the district decreased by 22% compared to last year, when it stood at 1,717.
According to the figures, there were 1,271 homes in the area classified as second homes last month.
The data relate to properties subject to housing tax.
The Somerset West and Taunton Council (SWT) Private Sector Housing Team described the steps they are taking to reduce the number of empty houses in the area.
This includes the employment of a dedicated empty house office since July 2015, initially part-time until the position becomes full-time in March 2019.
The Empty Home Agent works with landlords to bring empty properties back to service by providing information, advice and guidance; answers calls from neighbors of empty houses and liaises with Environmental Health and Building Control to find a solution.
The council also said that “letters, calls and emails are intended for empty landlords who remain on the municipal tax empty house list,” and added that it has committed to producing a form. empty property review each summer to collect data for the council’s tax base reporting in October.
The Private Sector Housing team “is also working closely with Lendology to provide loans to owners of empty homes and with Home First Plus to offer licensing agreements”; “Promotes empty house service through press releases, networking at empty house events, maintaining and updating the empty house web page and engaging with members of the great public ”, and“ identify and apply all new opportunities of new and existing legislation relevant to the application choice ”.
When a property remains empty for a significant period of time, a number of “last resort” execution options can be used by the board.
This includes forced sales, issuance of mandatory purchase orders, and issuance of empty housing management orders.
The Local Government Association (LGA) called on the government to give local authorities more power to acquire empty housing.
A spokesperson for the LGA, which represents local councils, said: “At a time when we face a chronic housing shortage across the country and high levels of homelessness, it is wrong to let so many empty dwellings. ”
In the UK, the number of empty homes fell 2% to 468,000, while the number of second homes fell 4% to 253,000 after increasing by the same percentage in October 2020.
Owners of properties that have been empty for two years or more may be charged an additional 100% council tax on top of their bill, up to 300% if the house has been empty for a decade or more.
Nationally, around 72,000 homes were subject to a housing tax premium in October, of which about a fifth had been abandoned for five to ten years and 10% for more than a decade.
In 2020-2021, councils across the country identified more than 268,000 households as homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said more should be done to get empty homes back into service.
She added: “Even if we filled each of these empty properties, we still would not 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.”
In line with its hosting strategy and delivery plan – adopted by the full council in October – SWT is “fully committed to ending homelessness in our district by 2027”.
A council spokesperson said: “In response to the government’s ‘everyone in’ directive, we have partnered with the YMCA to create emergency accommodation in Canonsgrove, Trull, which has managed to temporarily house up to 58 people safely at one time.
“We were successful in securing government funding through various offers to secure Gascony House in Minehead and some Housing First housing in Taunton, as well as being able to employ two floating support officers to facilitate a ‘move »Successful and sustainable tenants. from supported housing to independent living.
“We also have a dedicated street sleeper team that provides outreach services within the community and works with partner agencies to help street sleepers find accommodation.
“Our Homelessness Team is very focused on preventing homelessness through early intervention and works proactively with our Floating Support Officers and our Private Rental Sector team, who strive to either maintain housing current or to find other suitable accommodation.
“In an effort to make our services more accessible, we recently made it possible to make requests for homeless assistance online and with support when needed. ”
A government spokesperson said more than 243,000 new homes were delivered last year and the number of empty homes had fallen by 30,000 since 2010.
He said: “We have taken important steps to prevent empty houses.
“This includes giving councils stronger powers to raise the housing tax on empty houses and take charge of their management and the introduction of higher stamp duty rates and tighter tax rules for second homes. . ”
The government’s £ 12.2 billion affordable housing program was announced in last year’s budget.
The program will run over five years, from 2021 to 2026.