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by Lamiat Sabin
THE housing crisis could be eased by forcing almost a quarter of a million empty homes back on to the market, a leading think tank said yesterday.
While at least 1.4 million people languish on social housing waiting lists, 218,000 properties in England have lain unoccupied for longer than six months, according to IPPR North.
Local authorities should be able to decide higher council tax rates for empty homes and the two-year minimum time before owners of an unoccupied home can be charged should be cut to one year, the organisation suggested.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s Tory-led coalition has presided over the lowest level of housebuilding in England since 1923, with just over 100,000 homes reaching completion in 2012-13, according to the Home Builders Federation.
“It’s totally unacceptable to think that while thousands of people are homeless, we have nearly a quarter of a million properties that stand empty,” said IPPR North research fellow Bill Davies.
Releasing the 218,000 empty homes — with first choice going to British buyers — would alleviate some of the shortfall, the IPPR recommended.
The Labour Party is pledging to have 200,000 more homes built annually by 2020 as well as giving “use it or lose it” powers to councils in order to discourage developers from hoarding land before selling at a profit.
“With a better tax and funding system, we can bring more homes onto the market, and encourage those holding empty properties to fund the costs of those who don’t have a place to call home,” said Mr Davies.
Around 76,000 children live in temporary accommodation and 250,000 families are stuck in overcrowded social housing.
Stock has been further diminished by councils selling properties to tenants at hefty discounts under the right to buy.
A spokesman for construction union Ucatt added: “Money generated in extra charges should be spent on building more council housing.”
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