Leader's Column in Southwark News October 2021

Copy Haringey and Charge Triple Council Tax on ‘Vacant Properties’

 

Empty homes and moving the homeless out of London show the twisted state housing in Southwark, writes Cllr Hamish McCallum…

Ahead of Action on Empty Homes day on 9th October and World Homeless Day on October 10, it is vital that we take a look at the worrying state of Southwark housing.

This issue is all the more critical following is Southwark Labour’s recent recommended change in homelessness policy to “remove restrictions” that would allow the council to move homeless people outside of London.

Southwark has over 3,000 households living in temporary accommodation, of which around half are already living outside of the borough.

Southwark Labour is now proposing to adapt its Temporary Accommodation Policy and Action Plan in order to place them even further away. It concedes this is likely to mean that more will be living outside the capital than in.

Yet, data from housing campaigners Action on Empty Homes shows that Southwark has twice as many empty or second homes as households in temporary accommodation.

The organisation reports that there are 7,400 second homes and empty properties in the borough. One Southwark home in every 24 is empty.

 

There is a clear disconnect in the area we live in if more properties sit idle than people who desperately need homes.

 

A decade of Labour bending over to big developers will have had their mark, with lack of affordable housing a well-covered topic in Southwark.

However, mistakes already made do not mean we cannot deal with what we have in front of us.

One suggested solution from Action on Empty Homes is copying Haringey Council’s policy to crack down hard on owners who leave their properties empty, taking a strict definition of “vacant” which can lead to additional properties being charged triple council tax.

In fact, I am proud that the Southwark Liberal Democrats proposed a motion in 2015 that argued for raising tax on empty homes.

 

Higher taxes for property investors clearly will not end the housing crisis alone. But, along with building genuine affordable housing en masse, it will play a part in doing so.

 

Unfortunately, there is real harm in not using the solutions we have in front of us.

Shelter warned in September that Universal Credit cuts and the end of the furlough scheme will all spell a disastrous winter for homelessness.

Its chief executive said that families will have to pick between eating, heating and rent this year.

As politicians one of the ways we can avoid this in the future is by acting today to ensure housing becomes available and affordable tomorrow.

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