HC Deb 26 May 1993 vol 225 cc609-10W
17. Mr. Booth

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement about unused public and private sector housing.

Sir George Young

The Government's aim is to bring a decent home within the reach of every family. To do this, it is important that we make full use of the existing housing stock and help homeless families by bringing empty property back into use.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in his autumn statement last November the provision of £627 million additional resources in England in 1992–93 to boost the housing market. £577 million of this, provided through the Housing Corporation, enabled housing associations to buy some 18,000 new, empty or repossessed properties.

In addition, local authorities have been allowed to spend virtually all the capital receipts they accrue between 13 November 1992 and the end of December 1993. This represents a substantial increase in local authorities' spending power and I hope that they will make effective use of the extra receipts, particularly in the areas of renovation and maintenance which would contribute to bringing back into productive use some of the 74,000 empty local authority flats and houses.

Resources for the estate action and housing action trusts programmes—£356 million and £87 million respectively in 1993–94—will assist in reducing the number of empty units in the larger and more difficult local authority estates.

The Government are keen to stimulate growth in the private rented sector. Deregulation of rents and the availability of shorthold tenancies for new private tenancies has removed one of the constraints which previously inhibited potential landlords. We offer a number of incentives to private individuals and institutions to make underused property available for rent: we are making £25 million available over three years to encourage retailers to let flats over their shops; tax incentives have been introduced to encourage householders to take in lodgers—from April 1992 gross rental income of up to £3,250 per annum has been exempt from income tax; following the success of pilot schemes last year we have expanded the housing associations as managing agents nationwide; and the business expansion scheme has realised about £1.25 billion in new investment, some of which has gone to purchasing empty or repossessed properties for renting.

Finally, a task force on Government Departments' empty houses has been set up to agree a programme of disposals of the 26,000 empty homes identified which are not needed immediately for operational purposes and to help bring them back into housing use.