Hundreds of houses standing empty

ALMOST 2,000 homes are standing empty in Northumberland at a time when many people are struggling to find affordable properties.

More than 1,000 of them are in the south east of the county, including more than 100 each in Sleekburn and Newbiggin.

Officers at Northumberland County Council managed to get 51 vacant houses and flats owned by private landlords back into use last year, and it hopes to add a further 85 this year.

At present, 10 owners of empty homes are being offered up to £7,500 each to get their properties lived in.

They must be available for three years to homeless households to qualify for the payouts.

So far, six homes in urban and rural parts of the county have signed up for the initiative, and the first is expected to be occupied next month.

Council tax figures from last April indicate that 2,351 homes in the county had been standing empty long term, but a meeting of the council’s south east committee at Blyth Isabella Centre last week was told the current figure was about 1,750.

Coun Barrie Crowther, pictured, of Cramlington Eastfield, noted there were three wards with more than 270 empty properties among them.

“We should employ someone to work in those three areas and not spread themselves out through the county,” he said.

Sleekburn had 101 empty homes as of last April, accounting for more than eight per cent of its private housing stock, the meeting heard.

Newbiggin had even more – 107, accounting for almost six per cent of its private housing.

Under the government’s new homes bonus, the council will be given £350 every time a property empty for six months or longer is brought back into use.

The authority can also force owners to act by taking them to a residential property tribunal to seek an empty dwelling management order.

After securing an order, it can then rent out the house itself, serve notice for repairs to be carried out, force the owner to sell the property or even compulsorily purchase it if all else fails.