New state powers to grab people’s homes go too far

New powers for town halls across the country to seize and commandeer private homes which have been empty for as little as six months have been revealed this week.



Small print in the Government’s controversial new ‘Empty Dwelling Management Orders’ guidance has shown:

• A home does not have to be run down or uninhabitable to be seized, merely empty for six months. Labour previously claimed they would only be used for blighted properties;

• Homes of the recently deceased can be confiscated, even if inheritance issues are not yet finalised. This could be within as little as six months of the death of the owner;

• The state collective taking over the property can house any type of tenant in the building without the consent of the owner, including those with a record of anti-social behaviour;

• They are not obliged to obtain a market rent, but can still deduct all their running costs from the rent. Owners are therefore likely to receive little compensation back;

• Tenants in the home will still have contractual and legal rights of occupancy, making it more difficult to return the property to the owner if the Order is revoked. The Order seizing the property can last for up to seven years;

• The new rules will not apply to empty homes or properties owned by incompetent or inefficient public sector bodies, nor empty ministerial residences like Dorneywood.

There is a case for action to put boarded-up and blighted properties back into use. Councils also need to reduce their empty housing stock. But these heavy-handed powers allow bureaucrats to seize private homes in perfect condition for up to seven years just because they have been empty for a short while. By contrast, plush ministerial residences like John Prescott’s Dorneywood lie untouched.

Seizing homes of the recently deceased is particularly disturbing. We doubt that state officials will always recognise the delays that can result from complex wills or appreciate the traumatic ordeal that families face with the task of clearing a home of personal possessions. We fear this is a stealthy new form of inheritance tax by the Labour Government.