How a new policy to tackle 'blights on society' in Hartlepool aims to improve the town

A new policy to help tackle ‘blights on society’ and improve the town has been approved by councillors.

By Nic Marko
Saturday, 27 July, 2019, 06:00
Hartlepool Civic Centre

The new ‘enforced sale policy’ sets out when the council would be able to enforce the sale of a property or land to recover debts owed to them.

Powers will be considered where the owner is either unknown to the council, or has not engaged with officers to improve the property and take steps to ensure that debts are paid.

Council chiefs said the policy will assist officers in making fair, considered, consistent and transparent decisions that can be explained to land and property owners and, if necessary, defended on appeal.

It was approved by Hartlepool Borough Council’s finance and policy committee.

Denise McGuckin, council director of regeneration and neighbourhoods, said: “Basically this will be another tool in our arsenal to enable us to take enforcement action.

“This isn’t about income, it’s about getting rid of a blight on society and actually taking some actions.”

The use of enforced sale powers will be considered where the property or land has a financial charge registered against it where the debt exceeds £1,000.

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In exceptional circumstances where the land or property is vacant, the owner can’t be traced and there are significant issues, a lower level of debt may be considered.

The policy may be considered as a tool to bring empty properties back into use and is a ‘less time consuming’ alternative to the use of a Compulsory Purchase Order.

Coun Leisa Smith said: “I fully support this enforced sales policy, we do have quite a few buildings within Hartlepool that this would be absolutely perfect for.”

Before the policy can apply, the debt has to have been owed to the council for at least three months but action must be taken within 12 years.

It is to be used as a ‘last resort’ after all other debt recovery options have been considered or deemed inappropriate.

The policy gives the council power to force the sale of land or buildings and is set out in the Law of Property Act 1925.

Council bosses stressed the enforced sale powers cannot be used with respect to council tax and business rates debts.