HUNDREDS of homes have been sitting empty for more than six months in Oxford - and inheritance disputes are partly to blame.

According to Oxford City Council tax records, as of Thursday, 705 homes were empty in the city for more than half a year, with 129 of these being vacant for more than two years.

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Homes being in legal limbo after a deceased owner, development delays and disrepair are the main reasons why houses are vacant in the city, but the figure can vary considerably throughout the year.

The overwhelming majority of vacant homes (nearly 99 per cent) are privately owned – with an FOI request in March revealing that there were 614 with a deceased owner, undergoing major work, or empty for more than six months.

At the same time, there were only eight council properties that had been empty for more than six months.

Oxford Mail:

Of the 705 empty homes in Oxford, 124 have deceased owners, 413 have been vacant for six to 24 months and 39 are empty due to renovation work.

Forty-one homes were brought back into use in the last financial year, while eight have been so far this year.

Most come back into use with little council intervention, but although the authority does work with owners and executors, it says its legal powers to deal with empty homes are limited.

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Cllr Alex Hollingsworth, city council cabinet member for planning and housing delivery, said: “With very few exceptions, empty homes in Oxford are privately owned and may be empty for reasons that include renovations and the need to settle estates of deceased owners. In the case of council homes that appear empty, the tenant may still be paying rent but absent due to long-term hospital care.

“We actively and continuously monitor empty homes and are in regular contact with owners and executors to understand their needs and help if required. Most empty home owners intend to bring them back into use anyway and our intervention can help resolve any issues and accelerate this process. Since the start of the pandemic we’ve brought 49 empty homes back into use that might otherwise still be vacant.

“While we prefer to work with owners we will consider the use of enforcement measures like empty dwelling management orders or compulsory purchase orders where an owner is unable or unwilling to bring an empty home back into use. 

“If you’d like help or advice on bringing an empty home back into use, please contact our empty property officer through our website or by calling 01865 252280.”

In 2017, the council bought a four-bedroom house in Rose Hill that had been empty since the death of its owner in 1989, after getting a compulsory purchase order (CPO) from the Government.

The 28-year vacancy was due to it being in legal limbo as the executors had never applied for probate.

Oxford Mail:

The house has now been refurbished and let as a lifetime home to a family on its housing register.

With so many empty homes in the city, and given that Oxford is set to welcome Afghan refugees, it poses the question of whether any of them will be used to house refugees.

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The council said it is waiting on the Government to provide details on how the Afghan Resettlement Scheme will be set up.

Councillor Shaista Aziz, Cabinet Member for Inclusive Communities said: “We need to know what funding and resources are being put in place to support these refugees who will need housing, health, education and community so they can establish new lives here.

“Oxford is a proud city of sanctuary, as a city we believe in upholding the rights of refugees and migrants and all communities. But the cost of living and especially the cost of housing is a huge barrier for everyone in our city and it’s a barrier preventing refugees from settling in the city.”

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