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Councils accused of ‘shocking’ failure to use available laws in fight against housing crisis

PUBLISHED: 11:16 13 August 2020 | UPDATED: 17:23 14 August 2020

Campaigners have criticised Barnet, Camden and Haringey councils for failing to use powers at their fingertips to bring empty houses back into use.

Campaigners have criticised Barnet, Camden and Haringey councils for failing to use powers at their fingertips to bring empty houses back into use.

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Campaigners have criticised three London councils for their “shocking” failure to tackle housing shortages.

Haringey Council leader Joseph Ejiofor. Picture: Polly HancockHaringey Council leader Joseph Ejiofor. Picture: Polly Hancock

Action on Empty Homes said councils across London were spending £700million per year on “poor quality temporary housing”, while failing to use existing powers to bring empty homes back into use.

The pressure group spoke out after an investigation by the Ham&High found that Camden, Barnet and Haringey had only successfully deployed one Empty Dwelling Management Order (EDMO) between them in the last three years.

The Ham&High sought data on EDMOs after Haringey Council announced a £6million crackdown on empty homes, saying it would not hesitate to use the orders to take control of abandoned properties.

EDMOs allow local authorities to take possession – but not ownership – of a property for up to seven years and install tenants in it.

Will McMahon, director of Action on Empty Homes, said councils' failure to use EDMOs was 'shocking'.Will McMahon, director of Action on Empty Homes, said councils' failure to use EDMOs was 'shocking'.

When asked how many EDMOs it had deployed in the last three years, Haringey conceded that it had initiated three and only brought one to fruition.

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Barnet Council has not used any EDMOs. A spokesman said: “We have not used EDMOs as a measure as there hasn’t been a case where it has been appropriate to do so.”

It said it had instead given cash to the owners of empty homes, so they could decorate them and then lease or sell them.

Camden Council said it too had issued no EDMOs in the past three years, “as we will only take enforcement action as a last resort, if no progress is made.”

It said it had used the threat of compulsory purchase on three occasions, which had led to owners bringing properties back into use.

Will McMahon, director of Action on Empty Homes, said: “It is shocking that only one EDMO has been issued in boroughs containing at least 3,350 long-term empty homes – especially when Camden, Barnet and Haringey accounted for over £77.5million of the £700million spent across the capital in 2017/8 on temporary accommodation.

“The problem is that EDMOs are too weak an instrument, too time-consuming for many councils to use, and do not guarantee them success.

“We believe government should grant them easier-to-use powers, allowing them to take action before empty homes start impacting on local communities.”

Update - 14/08/2020: Barnet Council added: “Some landlords are entitled to Empty Homes Grants to help them bring their properties back into use. In return, they allow their homes to be used by people in housing need through Barnet Homes. It’s a win-win. We’ve also used compulsory purchase orders to bring long-standing empty properties back into use – though we prefer to use this as a last-resort option.”


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