A new focus by Woking Borough Council to rid the area of abandoned or dilapidated properties has led to a dramatic reduction in the number of could-be homes standing empty.
Over the past 12 months, 120 properties have been returned to use. It’s seen a 35% reduction in the number of long-term empty homes from 344 (as of the 6 October 2014) to 224 (present day).
At its peak in 2005, as many as 437 properties stood vacant, reducing the supply of available housing in the Borough.
While empty homes are bad news for the hundreds of families desperately in need of accommodation, they are also a concern for the surrounding community.
Empty properties often become problem neighbours.
They can deteriorate rapidly becoming targets for vandalism or crime, and in extreme cases, an empty property can devalue a neighbourhood by as much as 18%.
Understanding why properties become vacant has been key to the Council’s success in bringing them back to into use.
Reasons include the owner going into care, a prolonged gap between tenants, repossession or probate. In some cases, a property can fall into disrepair because the occupier is simply unable to manage its upkeep.
Housing officers have stepped up their investigations, reviewing each vacant property to understand the issues associated with it and to determine the most appropriate course of action.
The Council can use a range of informal and formal interventions, which might be securing and maintaining the property or bringing the property up to a standard that it can be let.
Of the 120 empty homes returned to use, the majority were either sold by or rented out following refurbishment works facilitated by the Council.
Cllr Colin Kemp, Woking Borough Council’s Portfolio Holder for Homelink & Private Sector Housing, said: “With such high demand for housing, it’s inconceivable that there should be hundreds of properties standing empty across the Borough.
“Not only is that an awful waste, empty properties attract trouble and blight communities.
“The reasons surrounding empty properties are complex and lengthy. As portfolio holder I have made this one of my priorities and thanks to the dogged determination of our housing officers.
“Woking Borough Council has broken the mould. We are ridding the Borough of its abandoned homes at the rate of two per week, that’s 10 a month.
“Either filling them with grateful families or moving them onto the next stage, which might be renovation or redevelopment of the site.
“Properties can become vacant at any time. Any one concerned by an empty property in their neighbourhood should contact the Council so it can either be secured in the owner’s absence or made available to others.
“By owning an empty property and not utilising it owners could be losing as much as £13,000 every year through rental loss, council tax, security, high insurance costs and dilapidation.
“We urge owners in this situation to come forward and talk to us. There is a lot of support available and we will always try to work with owners to reach an agreeable solution.”
If you are aware of, or concerned about an empty property in your neighbourhood, please contact Woking Borough Council on 01483 743836 or use the ‘Report It’ facility on the Council’s website.
Similarly, if you are an owner of an empty property, or overseeing one on someone’s behalf, visit woking.gov.uk/emptyhomes to view the range of options available to you.