New power amounts to home theft'

PUBLISHED: 12:14 23 June 2006 | UPDATED: 21:57 28 May 2010

There s a house near where I live, which was on the market for almost two years before it was sold. It was a modest three-bedroom home in a desirable residential area. So what? I hear you say. Well, if new government rules had been in place it could have

There's a house near where I live, which was on the market for almost two years before it was sold.

It was a modest three-bedroom home in a desirable residential area.

So what? I hear you say.

Well, if new government rules had been in place it could have been 'stolen' by the district council and rented to the homeless.

This bizarre scheme, announced last week by Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly, gives local authorities power to confiscate houses which have been vacant for six months and use them to reduce the ever-lengthening list of the homeless.

All very worthy and practical - for someone residing in Cloud Cuckoo Land. For those inhabiting the real world it is at best plain daft and at worst a plunderer's charter.

The main aim of this half-baked scheme, coming into force next month, is to transform abandoned and run-down inner-city properties into social housing. But its implications are horrendous. Although there will presumably be safeguards, it is conceivable a council could confiscate any house for sale for more than six months and rent it out to . . . well, whoever it deemed worthy.

Fenland, South Holland and West Norfolk Councils, all honourable authorities, will, I'm sure, do their utmost to have nothing to do with this evil nonsense. But the fact that the government can suggest theft of other people's property as an answer, or part-answer, to our homelessness problem beggars belief.

Dealing with the death of parents is difficult enough. Having to sell the family home makes it doubly difficult. And we should not forget we already have legalised theft in the form of inheritance tax which, although aimed at the rich, now affects millions of 'ordinary' people because its thresholds have not been adjusted to take account of the explosion in house prices.

It is quite common for families with little or no disposable cash having to borrow massive sums to pay inheritance tax demands before their parents' homes and other assets can be disposed of.

Stress will be heightened by introduction of the home information pack next year. This could cost a seller up to £1,000 and must be updated every six months. Failure would risk a £200 fine.

The irony is that the six-month element of the new rules allowing for property theft just might reduce a seller's information pack costs.

What a sorry mess.

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