With the UK suffering a housing shortage drastic measures are to be considered by the Government.

According to the homeless charity Shelter, about 1.8 Million households are on waiting lists for re-housing. The building projects that were moth balled following the 2007 financial meltdown and subsequent recession could also cause further problems in the future.

Estimates for the number of long-term empty homes are in the hundreds of thousands, according to the Empty Homes Agency, the figures could add up to 920,000 properties lying empty across the UK.

The issue of empty properties is a very hot topic at the moment. In recent weeks, councils and MPs have been talking about ways to bring them back into use, and in December Channel 4 will be launching a campaign to fill some of those properties.

But one local authority has already offered a solution – Cornwall council have suggested that they offer owners of empty homes the option of either interest-free loans to bring properties that have been left empty for six months or more back to use, or a compulsory purchase order

Cornwall council says 3,597 flats and houses in the county have been empty for at least six months. Some have even been empty for many years, and has allocated £2 Million (GBP) to spend on persuading owners to bring the them back into use. This does not include the holiday homes that make up 10% of the county’s housing stock.

Interest-free loans of up to £15,000 can be claimed from the council by owners of two-bed properties that have been empty for six months or more and need substantial work to make them habitable. Owners of one-bed homes can claim up to £7,500.

In return, the refurbished homes must be made available for some of the 18,931 households on the council’s waiting list.

The council is also offering interest-free loans of up to £20,000 to local first-time buyers who purchase long-term unoccupied homes. It cannot be put towards a deposit, but is made available after completion of the purchase for buyers to undertake renovation work.

However, the council admits this is a scheme that may have minimal impact because few mortgage companies are willing to lend to buyers of homes that have been left empty for six months or more – even with the promise of an additional loan to improve them.

Cornwall council is also looking at offering loans directly to tenants to carry out improvements in return for a contract with the landlord giving them long-term security of tenure for five years or more.

The idea is still being discussed amid concern that it may be difficult to draw up a watertight contract binding landlords to such an agreement.

Cornwall council is not the only local authority to use its powers to oblige owners to bring empty properties back into use.

In 2007 Kent introduced a similar “No Use Empty” programme of interest-free loans; since then, 1,729 long-term empty properties have been returned to use. £5 Million (GBP) has been given in loans with £1 Million (GBP) returned to date.

Although Kent has not used compulsory purchase orders, it undertakes other initiatives to encourage take-up, such as holding surgeries for owners of long-term empty properties.

Bristol city council also run a similar loan scheme, operated through a housing association, and some Scottish local authorities are also believed to be investigating the idea.

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