Empty homes in Flintshire may be auctioned to recover debts

Published date: 24 April 2014 |
Published by: Owen Evans 
Read more articles by Owen Evans  Email reporter


THE pros and cons of forcing people to sell their unoccupied homes if there are any outstanding debts are to be debated.

Members of a joint Flintshire Council committee will discuss whether to support a proposed enforced sales policy and, if so, how to implement it in the county.

A report to be discussed states that an Act which gives councils the power to force the auctioning of people’s homes if there is a large amount of money owed to the local authority could also be used to tackle the problem of unoccupied properties.

The report says such debts can include council tax arrears, social care charges and any other debt for work carried out and funded by the council, including improvement work deemed necessary by the council on vacant properties.

There are about 450 long-term vacant private homes in the county.

The report adds: “The enforced sales procedure therefore offers the council the potential to resolve the issue of the property being empty and also place it in a stronger position to recover monies it is owed.

“The only way the owner of the property can prevent the property from being placed in auction is to repay the debt.”

The report, which will be discussed by Flintshire Council’s joint housing and environment overview and scrutiny committee on Monday, said the debt would have to be significant to pursue this route.

It added: “The council can then work with the new owner to ensure the property is reoccupied in a timely manner.”

The report adds council tax debt will become an “important tool in the future” for forcing sales of unoccupied properties.

From April 2015, should provisions in the Welsh Government Housing Bill remain unchanged, council tax charges for homes unoccupied for more than a year could be increased by up to 150 per cent as another means of forcing owners’ hands.

The report added: “Should the additional charges be approved, it will not only act as a deterrent to owners leaving their properties unoccupied, but it may also increase opportunities for enforced sales and increase revenue generally.”

Progress of a Welsh Government scheme aimed at reducing the level of unoccupied homes will also be discussed. The Houses into Homes scheme, which aims to return 5,000 long- term vacant homes in Wales to occupation by 2016, provides interest-free loans to owners of homes vacant for more than six months to renovate them and return them into use.

Flintshire has claimed £950,000 out of £4.4m made available across North Wales.

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