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Thousands of homes in Kent and Medway left empty for months each year

By Caitlin Webb, local democracy reporter

Around 13,000 houses in Kent and Medway are left empty for at least part of the year.

Homeless charity Porchlight is calling on those who do not live in a house permanently to "play a role in combating the homelessness crisis".

With the vast majority of second homes registered in coastal regions of Kent, around 9,000 homes are left empty for around nine months every year.

Thousands of homes are empty for part of the year. Stock image
Thousands of homes are empty for part of the year. Stock image

Across the entire county more than 4,700 properties have been empty for over a year while hundreds of people are sleeping on the streets.

To provide a shelter for homeless people in Kent, the head of Porchlight is demanding more must be done to address the imbalance.

Mike Barrett, chief executive of Porchlight, said: "Homelessness in Kent has reached frightening levels.

"Everybody deserves a place to live but with so many people sleeping on our streets, organisations like ours are struggling to cope with demand.

"Owners of second homes can play a role in combating the homelessness crisis.

"Recently, one of our supporters kindly donated his second home to Porchlight, meaning we’re able to bring more people in from the streets.

"We’d love to hear from more people who have a second home and want to make a difference to those who have nowhere to sleep tonight."

Swale borough council tops the charts with around 2,000 registered holiday homes followed by Thanet with 1,600 homes.

Yet the majority of the registered second homes in Swale are static caravans on the Isle of Sheppey which can't be lived in all year round.

Council spokesman Phil Sutcliffe said: "We have approximately 2,000 holiday homes with a council tax liability.

"Many of them have planning restrictions which prevent them from being occupied for either two or four months of the year and their charge is reduced accordingly."

To encourage property owners to fill up empty buildings, councils across the county are charging a 50% council tax premium.

In 2017/18, Swale collected £44,110 in long term empty premium.

Thanet charges this rate on 278 homes in the district.

It's claimed thousands of homes could be used by the homeless. Stock image
It's claimed thousands of homes could be used by the homeless. Stock image

Mr Sutcliffe added: "Swale borough council is carrying out our annual review of all properties that are recorded as being empty for five months or more.

"This is to confirm if the property’s status remains correct and to check if any can be brought back into the list as occupied properties.

"We do try to work with owners of properties that have been empty for more than 6 months to try and get them back into use."

Kent County Council launched a 'No Use Empty' campaign to raise awareness of the issues surrounding empty properties back in 2005.

Since its launch around 5,000 buildings have been filled through giving out loans and legal advice.

Canterbury city council hired an officer, dedicated to investigating 1,100 empty buildings in the area, last summer.

More than a quarter of the empty habitable buildings were brought back into use within a year.

Yet the council's private sector housing development manager, Tim Lovell, said some property owners are keeping the properties deliberately empty.

He said: “If a property owner is deliberately leaving their house empty, but in good repair with all bills paid, there is very little we can do.

"And in some situations, there are health issues that mean resolving a case is not easy.

“However, where we can get in touch with an owner and engage in meaningful dialogue, we can advise on options open to them, such as refurbishment loans or ways to resolve legal disputes."

Estate agent Damien Cooke in Thanet doesn't believe increasing the amount of houses in the district will solve "social problems".

The director of Cooke and Co claims a lack of investment and jobs in the seaside towns is leaving people in "the poverty trap".

He said: "The real issue is the lack of investment and paid employment in the Thanet area.

"There are no large or future tech employers in the area and jobs tend to be zero hour contacts or service jobs in retail or seasonal entertainment positions paying minimum wage.

"I feel that more jobs and less properties should be looked at as an influx of new homes will not help the area at all.

"If the properties do not sell to private buyers then they are likely to be sold to social housing providers to relocate people from more expensive areas.

"In a lot of cases these people then get caught in the povety trap and cannot move again from the Thanet."

"We’d love to hear from more people who have a second home and want to make a difference to those who have nowhere to sleep tonight" - Mike Barrett

He claims potential first time buyers find it harder to borrow money due to the lack of skilled jobs available.

In the past investors from out of town used to "dump their problems" in Thanet by buying property cheap and leaving them badly maintained, he claims.

However he added this has changed as holiday homes have improved the quality of houses in the region and brought people with a disposable income to spend their money in the area.

Yet he believes things are beginning to "change for the better" in Thanet as " the area has become a better, more desirable place to live for working professionals".

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