Kensington and Chelsea ‘unaffordable for normal people’ as hundreds of homes sit empty

By Owen Sheppard, local democracy reporter

There are hundreds of opulent properties in Kensington and Chelsea that have sat empty and unlived-in for years, according to council data.

More than 70 homes in the borough – the wealthiest and smallest in London – have stood empty for more than 10 years.

Another 281 homes have been vacant since January 2016, while 668 have been empty since the start of 2019.

The properties are privately owned and not council homes.

The figures, released after a Freedom of Information request, also show that Kensington and Chelsea has a much worse problem than its neighbouring boroughs, Westminster and Hammersmith and Fulham.

Despite having a larger population, Westminster had 17 properties that have been vacant for over 10 years – less than a quarter of Kensington and Chelsea’s number.

Hammersmith and Fulham has only one property that has been vacant for more than four years.

Kensington and Chelsea Council said the housing crisis was a London-wide issue, and that it has ongoing plans to build 300 new social housing units.

Councils do not have any power to stop people buying and selling local properties purely as investments before leaving them empty, but they can charge higher council tax to people who do.

Homeowners whose properties in Kensington and Chelsea have been empty for two to five years are charged 200 per cent council tax. For a home that’s been empty for over five years, it’s 300 per cent.

Kasim Ali, newly elected Labour councillor following March 2019 by-election for Dalgarno ward, Kensington and Chelsea council.

Councillor Kasim Ali, who chairs the council’s Housing and Communities Select Committee, said the borough is at the centre of London’s housing crisis.

“It’s really striking that 70 properties have not been lived in for over 10 years,” the Labour politician said.

“The borough is unaffordable for normal people. We’re the only borough in the whole country where the population is going down, and it’s been going down for 10 years, while London’s population has been going up.”

Kensington and Chelsea’s population was estimated to be 156,000 in 2019, but about 159,000 in 2011, according to census data.

A council spokesman said: “The lack of affordable housing is a London-wide problem and we feel it especially keenly in our expensive, small and densely packed borough. That is why we are investing in our new homes programme, which will deliver 600 new Council-owned homes, 300 of which will be at social rent.

“We want to reduce the number of empty properties, which is a complex issue, and we’re exploring how we can address it. This includes increasing the council tax rate on empty homes and working on a strategy, along with landlords and developers, to bring as many as possible back into use.”

Cllr Ali suggested the Government should find a solution with a form of “mansion tax”, similar to an idea that the Labour party had in its 2015 general election manifesto.

“There should be a tax on people with valuable homes that are empty and don’t live in them, but it should not affect people who live in their homes,” he said.

“Some people live in homes that they inherited from their family, and don’t have much income, even though the house is worth millions. The Government’s tax should be on people who have homes they clearly don’t need, as a deterrent.”

The Treasury was approached for comment on whether it would consider a mansion tax, but it did not respond.

 


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