London's long-term empty homes: letting down social housing hopefuls and now asylum seekers

Anthony Rockliffe, director of YouSpotProperty.com, explains

Our ability to house asylum seekers in different parts of the country is close to collapse. The three firms contracted by the Government cannot make a profit on the £9.35 budget allocated to house and feed each asylum seeker per night.  They are forced to accommodate them in hotels, blowing the budget and forcing them into a loss.

With nearly 700,000 long-term empty properties around England, 22,000 of which are in London, local authorities are contributing to this problem as much as forming part of the solution.

Keith Vaz, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee summed it up:We seem to be able to better negotiate with Turkey, but not with Tunbridge Wells, Maidenhead and Waverley Borough Councils.”

There are swathes of the country with no asylum seekers but thousands in urban areas.  Empty homes hotspots around England include the North West, North East and London among others.

The Government needs to place pressure on local authorities, not only to take their fair share of asylum seekers, but to radically tackle empty homes in their respective boroughs. They could accommodate asylum seekers as much as social housing hopefuls, some of whom have been waiting years.

Many London councils refuse to contribute their fair share towards asylum seekers because it’s so much more expensive than other areas of the country.

From a Freedom of Information request, we can see the extent to which councils contribute to this issue.  Lambeth Council for example, owns nearly 350 houses sitting empty for the past year, and a further 180 for the past two years. Why?

If the councils had the support of the Government, whereby funds could be allocated to help develop otherwise uninhabitable or long-term empty homes, it would alleviate the waiting list for social housing and would improve many neighbourhoods around the Capital avoiding majorly disruptive and expensive building projects.  National house builders have most recently failed to meet targets leaving us with a shortfall, yet we’re still sitting with a glut of empty homes.

There is a multitude of reasons why long term empty homes fall into a state of abandonment and disrepair.  It’s only the councils who collectively own and manage clusters of these properties and are in a position to do something about it that might make an impact on the shortfall.

We urge the Home Office to place sufficient pressure on the councils to step up to the mark make best use of what we already have.

Anthony Rockliffe is director of YouSpotProperty.com which rewards members of the public for reporting empty or derelict homes in their neighbourhoods which can be put back into use.

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