A SCHEME aimed at reducing the housing waiting list by bringing empty properties back into use has been launched.

Cherwell District Council has set aside £120,000 for this financial year to give grants to landlords to spruce up their properties in Bicester, Kidlington and Banbury.

In return they must lease their property to tenants put forward by the council for a specified period at a capped rent, which is likely to be lower than privately-rented homes.

Landlords will be able to apply for a grant to cover three-quarters of the work needed, up to £15,000, to reach the Government’s decent homes standard.

The council said over the lifetime of the contract the grant was effectively compensation for the lower rental income.

Grants of £6,000 or less will require a two-year commitment to the council, while grants at the top end will mean the council will be able to nominate tenants for a five-year period.

The scheme is similar to work done in the Channel 4 documentary Great British Property Scandal, which brought long-term empty homes back into use, and its presenter George Clarke continues to campaign on the issue.

But the scheme has come in for some criticism.

Town and district councillor Les Sibley said: “If you take the average grant of £6,000 that’s 20 houses. That’s not going to do a lot.

“Owners are getting their property done up and there’s nothing to stop them selling the property after the lease is up. It sounds like a nice little earner for some people.

“I can think of better ways to spend that money and help people find homes.”

Cherwell said the initiative was one of a number of projects it had put in place, including its self-build scheme to help reduce the waiting list.

Debbie Pickford, Cherwell’s lead member for housing, said: “On the one hand we have people who, for no fault of their own, are struggling to make ends meet.

“On the other we have people who own properties which are sitting vacant because they cannot afford to bring them up to a standard suitable to let.

“By helping bring those homes back into use, we can create new income for the owner, house people who are otherwise at risk of being homeless, and improve the standard of private sector housing into the bargain.”

For more information call the council on 01295 221764.