Lewes District Council has moved to set the record straight after research wrongly claimed it is holding on to more than a thousand empty homes.
The study, carried out by the online estate agent emoov.co.uk, initially claimed the council had 1,335 empty properties and named it in the top five worst offenders nationally. But Lewes District Council says only seven council-owned homes were empty at the time of the request.
The confusion appears to have come about due to the wording of the Freedom of Information request, which asked the council to “provide the number of homes, including council but not limited to, that are owned by your council and currently sat unoccupied.”
The council’s full answer read as: “There are currently 1,335 empty domestic properties, which would include any council-owned properties where applicable.”
However when asked by the Sussex Express, a council spokesman clarified that only seven of the ‘empty domestic properties’ mentioned are council-owned, all of which had been undergoing refurbishment work at the time of the request.
The spokesman said that of the other empty homes, none of which were council-owned, 323 were second/holiday homes and 203 were awaiting probate following the death of its occupant. The remaining empty properties are also privately owned.
The spokesman said: “The original figure published by eMoov was incorrect. We alerted the company which has correctly changed the figure to seven on its website. These seven homes were classified as empty because work was being carried out on them at the time.”
Several other councils are understood to have queried the figures which appeared in the study, leading eMoov to revise its original claims.
After the revision a spokesman for eMoove said: “We have requested a full explanation as to why an FOI request for strictly council owned properties was responded to with private sector data, however, we also do not wish to misrepresent these councils despite their less than adequate performance in executing their duty.
“Wigan council have since apologised for the incorrect information provided and are investigating why it was given. The others have not.
“We apologise on behalf of these councils for the change in the data set and we now believe we have allowed an adequate time for any disputes to be raised and amended.”
The company’s founder Russell Quirk also criticised the responses from the councils. He said: “Freedom of Information is supposed to give councils the opportunity to provide an accurate, detailed response to public enquiries. It’s disappointing to see that even with this process in place, there is still an opportunity for councils to mislead the public with incorrect information, vague responses and one word answers.
“Quite frankly, if they don’t have the time to formulate at least one sentence when dealing with members of the public, the council need to take a long hard look at themselves across the board, not just where the number of vacant properties is concerned.”
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