Compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) are legal powers that allow certain public bodies in specific circumstances to buy property without the owner’s agreement. CPOs are, for example, sometimes used to buy the land needed to enable road building schemes to go ahead. There are also circumstances where councils can compulsorily purchase empty homes in order to get them back into use, to demolish them, or to replace them.
Councils have powers to provide housing, and one of the ways they can do this is by buying land for building houses or by altering, adapting and improving existing buildings for housing. Specific powers in Section 17 of the Housing Act 1985 allow councils to compulsorily purchase individual empty homes to enable them to be used for housing.
Councils also have wide ranging power to improve local well-being. This power is sometimes called the “well-being power” or “the power of first resort”. Guidance and information on this can be found on the Local Government Association's website. It gives councils the power to do anything that they think is likely to improve the social, environmental or economic well-being of the area. This may include dealing with empty properties which are unsightly, or damage the local environment. Specific compulsory purchase powers are contained in Section 226 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 these allow councils to compulsorily purchase land or property for the purpose of improving social, environmental or economic well-being. Councils also have powers to clear areas of unsatisfactory housing. Specific powers in Section 289 Housing Act 1985 enable councils to declare clearance areas. This power enables them to compulsorily purchase all the homes, buildings and land in an area and demolish them. This power can be used to deal with areas with large numbers of empty homes.
In practice, councils will only consider compulsory purchase of empty homes - outside major clearance area schemes etc - as a last resort. They will usually seek to help property owners bring empty homes into use, and will only consider compulsory purchase if this help and encouragement has been unsuccessful and no agreement has been reached.
If a council compulsorily purchases an empty house they must compensate the owner, and sometimes other people who are affected by the purchase. Government guidance on compensation rules and compulsory purchase are published on the Department for Communities and Local Government website.