The 'no fault' EDMO is an idea that is gaining traction, here's why:

Empty Dwelling Management Orders (or EDMOs) allow a council to take over a property for a fixed period of time and to act as landlord or owner but it is important to realise they don't transfer ownership. They do allow councils to carry out remedial works and put tenants into a property. So, on the face of it, they sound like a great solution to empty homes numbers rocketing up in the middle of a national housing crisis, don't they?

Surely with over a quarter of a million long-term empty homes across England (part of a wider vacant total of over 660,000 when exemptions and shorter term 'normally occurring empties' are taken into account) the EDMO should be the order of the day, right?

They might even be worth testing on some of those 263,000 empty second homes we also hear about, you might think? You know the ones that never get used but can't be charged extra council tax for being long-term empty because they are classed as a 'second home' (they push the national total of homes with no-one living in them right now up to over 920,000, incidentally).

Wrong, sadly. The Orders require a lengthy application process to a Property Tribunal (effectively a sort of special court) and even then not all are granted. 'Fair enough', you may say. 'If it's a court some folks are going to be found 'not guilty', right?'

Wrong again, because the thing is there are tens of thousands of long-term (often very long-term) empty homes that the orders don't apply to. Maybe hundreds of thousands on reflection. And you won't see these homes at the Tribunal generally, because hard-pressed local government officers are good at avoiding wasting their own time and the Tribunal's.

Why is this?

Well the thing is that when the EDMO legislation was introduced Government immediately changed the rules and issued Ministerial Guidance attached to them. And in doing so they made it much more difficult to get one applied to even the very longest of long-term empties.

What changed?

A number of things changed including the time - you now have to wait for a property to be two years long-term empty to apply - rather than the six months originally envisaged, or a year - which might be a good compromise.

If you are the council applying you also have to convince the Tribunal that the property is negatively impacting its neighbourhood through attracting anti-social behaviour or criminal activity, or literally falling down and becoming a danger. It isn't enough that it has been kept empty for a decade and the owner refuses to rent it or sell it.

This loophole coupled with many others, makes a lot of long-term empties unsuitable for an EDMO - and the whole lengthy process of evidence collecting they imply under the current rules, frankly, doesn't help either.

This is why many councils now choose other enforcement routes but that doesn't stop them feeling frustrated and hamstrung every time Government tell them they have the powers to act on long-term empty homes, because they don't.

Back in 2018, a year after the Grenfell fire, the newly appointed councillors in Kensington and Chelsea dealing with the devastating impact of the fire on housing in the borough, wrote to their Conservative colleagues in Government. They were seeking a solution to their inability to get their hands on enough housing, fast enough, to suitably re-house all those the fire had made homeless; and to address their already lengthy social housing waiting list. All this in a London borough where one house in every 8 has noone living in it long-term (that isn't even counting the 'naturally occurring' short-term and exempt vacants). In all over 10,000 homes in the borough are either long-term empty or classed as 'second homes'.

The Borough councillors and officers know that the vast majority of these are utterly unused, simply sitting on their streets empty. Largely well looked-after, some on private estates or in gated communities with service charges looking after their upkeep. All going up in value, sheltering invested capital, housing nobody.

The Borough decided that they needed access to some of these 10,000 wasted homes and they had a plan to get it. The plan involved a reform to the Guidance on EDMOs, to make it easier to obtain one simply on the basis that the home was unused and the owner had neither plan nor intention to use it in any way at all, except as a sort of bricks and mortar safety deposit box.

If you want to read their proposal and their argument for reform it is here

If you want to read their letter to then Housing Minister Kit Malthouse MP you can read it here.

But this isn't all about London, there are reports of similar issues with long-term empties and so-called second homes in cities and rural areas across England. Bradford for example has over 6,600 homes out of use long-term, - over 4,500 long-term empties and 2,100 so-called 'second homes'. Leicester has 3,400 almost 2,000 long-term empties and around 1,500 'second homes'. While across the Greater Manchester there are over 24,000 (12,607 long-term empties and 11,769 'second homes').

Unfortunately the Minister rejected the Kensington & Chelsea Councillors proposal back in 2018 and the council still awaits the reform of the Empty Dwelling Order which they say is needed from Ministers. Action on Empty Homes agree with them. A reform of the under-utilised Empty Dwelling Management Order is long overdue.

To look at the national picture click here to see the whole country's data - sorted by region

In National Empty Homes Week 2021 this is one of the improved powers we are calling for Government to offer councils in England - read more on our call for a new National Empty Homes Strategy here