In previous posts we highlighted the bizarre examples used in the government’s advice on how to deal with squatters, especially what to do if your home is squatted whilst out walking the dog. Bernard Crofton recalled that the dog example originated as an ironic comment made at a meeting many years ago. From his Freedom of Information request, it seems no such examples actually exist and, even if they did, the government wouldn’t know because it keeps no data on such cases.
It was with this in mind that I read the 7 January announcement by Secretary of State Eric Pickles that he planned to heavily restrict the use of Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMO), introduced by Labour to take action on properties that have been empty for 6 months or more.
Once again the justification for the policy is punctuated by colourful and extreme examples. Pickles said it was wrong that a bereaved family could face having their loved one’s home seized under an EDMO, and quoted examples of councils attempting to use the powers against someone caring for an injured daughter abroad and a 96 year old who had passed away in a nursing home.
These examples would indeed be extraordinary if true, and CLG will shortly receive an FoI request seeking more information about them. What is known is that only 44 EDMOs have been made since the law came into effect in 2006. Councils would indeed have to be out to lunch to have focused on such cases given how many empty homes there are to choose from.
Let me be clear: just as I disapprove of people squatting properties when homeowners are walking their dogs, I also disapprove of councils making EDMOs against ‘people in vulnerable situations’ as Mr Pickles calls them, or when a property is empty for good reason.
Having compulsorily purchased quite a lot of empty homes in a previous life (indeed under the Thatcher government) I know that owners get into complex positions especially if a relative has died intestate. Back then the owners would be given lots of opportunities to bring their properties back into use, and the same is true today with EDMOs. But the very fact that the council intervened and was willing to take strong action meant that many properties were brought back into use without any formal action being taken. The threat was taken seriously. Owners will see Pickles’ soft soap policy and laugh when the council comes calling.
The real reason for Pickles’ change is ideological: “The Coalition Government is standing up for the civil liberties of law-abiding citizens. Fundamental human rights include the right to property” he said. More important, it seems than the human rights of the homeless.
Pickles clearly has little understanding of the damage empty properties can do to neighbourhoods in a very short space of time. In future he will only allow EDMOs to be used where there has been vandalism or squatters and other forms of anti-social behaviour, and action can only be taken after the property has been empty for two years. So an owner will be able to keep a property empty in a vandalised state, a blight on the neighbourhood, for 2 years before the council can take EDMO enforcement action.
I hope councils will object strongly, both to the stupidity of the new policy and to the demeaning nature of the argument for introducing it.