To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he has considered ways in which empty Government residential properties might be brought into use to house homeless people; and if he will make a statement.
The Public Accounts Committee reporting on homelessness in June last year drew attention to the potential for using empty Government residential properties to help house the homeless. Other Government Departments, which are individually responsible for managing their own properties, have co-operated with my own in drawing up best practice guidance on the management of their empty properties.The guidance emphasises the need for Departments to have clear strategies for their stock; the role of local authorities and housing associations in alleviating homelessness, and the advantages of making maximum use of short-term lets of properties which are temporarily vacant. It explains the potential for contracting out management of such properties to housing associations and others.It also sets out simplified disposal procedures, endorsed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury which may be used by Departments selling their properties to housing associations and others. These procedures should speed up property sales. Quicker sales should bring more of such properties into use faster, and thus contribute to relieving housing stress in pressure areas. My Department's regional controllers will play a liaison role as necessary in bringing together Departments, authorities and housing associations to help speed the process.Great strides have been made in recent years in reducing the numbers of empty properties held by Government Departments. However, further progress can be made particularly where local authorities have great difficulty in housing the homeless. I hope that all those who receive the guidance will act on the advice and to make better use of their properties in accordance with the spirit of the PAC report.The guidance is being issued today by my Department and that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I am arranging for it to be placed in the House Libraries. Copies are being sent to all Government Departments and local authorities, and distributed to registered housing associations through the Housing Corporation.