Southwark Council is set to create an action plan to try to bring thousands of empty homes back into use.  

As of October 2020, there were 3,720 empty homes in the borough, 2,358 of those empty for six months or more. 

Included are 1,047 council-owned properties, the majority of which are part of major redevelopments, while the private sector is responsible for 1,300 long-term empty homes (two years or more). 

On Tuesday (February 2), Southwark’s cabinet approved proposals to set about creating an empty homes action plan, as well as recommendations which will be part of it.  

Presenting a report on the plans, the cabinet member for housing, Councillor Leo Pollak, said the plans are needed to address the housing crisis. 

There are 14,000 households on Southwark’s housing waiting list, with more than 3,000 homeless households in temporary accommodation.  

He said: “This is a new frontier for the council to really eat into the acute housing need that we have in our borough. 

“We are redoubling our efforts to try and make sure that the extent of empty homes is significantly reduced.” 

Cllr Pollak said in spite of other efforts, the number of empty homes in the borough continues to rise. 

“They are not only a blight on many neighbourhoods and often attract unsociable behaviour, but they are an unacceptable wasted resource in the midst of the housing crisis,” he said.  

Recommendations to tackle empty homes 

The council will try to use more of its empty homes set for redevelopment as temporary housing for homeless households and key workers.  

It intends to work with landlords and developers to lease empty homes at local housing allowance levels. 

It plans to take a proactive approach to purchasing and repairing homes when owners are unable to make them fit to live in.   

Southwark wants to ramp up the use of Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMO), which involve the council taking over the management of a home and repairing it.  

It can then get back the costs through rent.  

The council also intends to improve data on empty homes and provide advice on options to bring properties back into use.  

It is also looking into scrapping license fees to incentivise property owners to let their homes through the council’s social lettings agency to homeless families. 

The council plans to campaign for changes to legislation and national policy – it says the current laws limit enforcement powers.   

Cllr Pollak said: “It’s crucial that we make the case for the powers that we need because our hands are tied in many ways. 

“The resources and powers that we have are constrained when it comes to meaningfully tackling the extent of empty housing in our borough.” 

The council will be lobbying for a “quicker, cheaper, and simpler” compulsory purchase process for long-term empty homes, lifting the caps on council tax premiums for empty homes, new planning powers that require occupation after a certain period after the home is completed, and a review of second homes in general.