Revealed: how almost 4,000 Norfolk homes sit empty
PUBLISHED: 07:00 26 December 2019 | UPDATED: 20:19 27 December 2019
Archant Norfolk 2015
Almost 4,000 properties in Norfolk have sat empty for more than six months in the past year, figures have revealed.
Homes are classed as long-term empty once the property has been vacant for more than six months.
And figures for 2019, published by the Department for Housing in October, show that in more than half of Norfolk's council areas the number of long-term empty properties has risen.
Four out of seven councils have seen a rise, with Broadland Council recording the biggest increase, with 124 more properties crossing the six-month threshold - and 100 properties empty for longer than two years.
A council spokesperson said owners were reminded of their responsibilities towards their properties, and any costs were recouped by the council.
The second-largest increase came from Norwich City Council, which gained 75 long-term empty properties.
It was followed by Breckland Council, which saw a rise of 57 homes, and North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) which gained 33.
There are 123 properties in Norwich which have been empty for more than 24 months - and 20 for longer than five years.
A city council spokesperson said: "Where possible, we contact owners with help and advice to encourage them to bring properties back into use.
"We also charge an additional 50pc council tax on homes that have been empty for two years."
While Breckland and North Norfolk had 127 and 140 properties respectively which had been empty for more than two years, with 72 in north Norfolk empty for longer than five.
Spokespersons for both councils said they "regularly [and] actively" review empty properties.
Empty properties in South Norfolk fell by 104, while the figure for Great Yarmouth Borough Council (GYBC) remained the same, at 586 empty properties.
There were 44 homes in South Norfolk which had been empty for more than two years, and 89 in the GYBC area - 79 of which had been empty for more than five years.
A spokesperson for South Norfolk Council said: "The council ensures that the owners of empty homes are reminded of and fully meet their responsibilities for the properties from which they benefit.
"Their responsibilities include payment of council tax and ensuring their properties do not become a blight on the street scene, a nuisance to neighbouring properties or a focus for anti-social behaviour.
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"Where the owners will not cooperate the council will intervene and recover from the owners the costs for any work done."
While a GYBC spokesperson said: "The council has an adopted empty homes policy which sets out its approach to reducing the number of long-term empty homes. The council has just launched a loan scheme to support owners of empty homes to afford to carry out much-needed repairs which prevent the property being occupied. In addition, the council has an active enforcement group of officers which meets fortnightly and tackles problem properties."
They added: "To encourage properties to be brought back into use as quickly as possible, homes empty for over two years are currently subject to a 200pc council tax charge.
"From April 2020, as well as this, there will be a 300pc charge for properties that are empty for more than five years. During 2018/19 alone, 525 empty properties came back into use."
However, King's Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council, despite having the highest overall number of long-term empty properties, also saw the biggest decrease of any Norfolk council, with the number of empty properties falling from 1,013 to 825, but the council did not give a figure for the number which had been empty for longer than two years.
A council spokesperson said: "A significant factor in the figures is attributable to two housing schemes owned by Freebridge Community Housing. It is understood the two completely empty housing schemes (Harpley and Plaxtole House) are planned to be demolished soon.
"Officers continue to look for opportunities where long-term empty properties can be acquired where appropriate. We have taken a proactive stance to address the issue of empty homes in west Norfolk.
Since we were given powers to reduce discounts in 2013, we have done so. This is to encourage owners to bring these properties back into use.
"We also have a long-term empty homes strategy."
Family share four-year 'struggle' to find home
A Norfolk father has told of his family's "struggle" to find a home - after searching for one since before the birth of his four-year-old daughter.
Chris Balding, from north Norfolk, said: "We're currently living with my wife, my daughter, my wife's mother, step-father and grandmother in a three-bedroom house."
The 36-year-old dad of one added: "My daughter's four and still sleeps in the same room as us.
"We're definitely struggling."
And Mr Balding, who is currently on a career break, said: "There are so many properties on AirBnB or used as holiday cottages.
"The deposit requirement means its incredibly hard to save - especially if you're renting somewhere."
He added that there were some suitable properties nearby, but said: "It's little two-bedroom houses that would be absolutely perfect for us but are in the holiday cottage market, and not for sale.
"It's a very tricky one."