Empty homes

Residents will be able to report empty homes in Westminster on a new dedicated hotline, the council has announced.

The new number will be set up in the coming months so that people can report homes that have been left vacant long term, and forms part of a new package of measures designed to fill unoccupied properties and tackle ‘buy to leave’ investments.

Long term empty residential properties (LTEPs) in Westminster that have been left unused for more than 2 years currently attract a council tax premium of 100%, with owners of empty homes for more than 5 years paying 4 times the standard rate, rising to 6 times more for over 10 years.

Council leader Adam Hug said while he welcomed the investment in properties, the current situation with empty homes was ‘alarming’.

He said: “For many the thought of so many homes in Westminster sitting empty, essentially left to rot, while thousands wait for housing, will be hard to swallow.

“These measures are an important first step in tackling then issue of empty houses in Westminster, where absentee international investment can hollow out our communities and waste a vital supply of homes.”

Data showed that 1150 properties registered for council tax in Westminster in 2022 were empty homes – a 123% rise on the previous year, with the problem most acute in affluent areas such as Kensington and Belgravia. These figures are likely to be further complicated by the purchase of holiday homes.

Hug said that statistics were understating the scale of the issue and that local authorities have insufficient tools to punish owners and encourage them to rent empty dwellings.

He said: “Our current powers are blunt instruments. We need to gain a better understanding of the problem and make it desirable to rent vacant property while penalising those who leave much needed homes empty.”

According to government figures, Westminster once again had the worst homelessness in London in 2022, with a highest estimated 250 people sleeping rough every night last autumn – over double the number in second placed Camden at 90.

Alongside the hotline, the council said it would be talking with partners and stakeholders in the city

Image: Geograph/N Chadwick.

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