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More must be done to get empty homes back into use

Monday 14 September 2020

In a letter to Rt Hon Christopher Pincher MP, Minister of State for Housing, Propertymark campaigns for action on empty homes, asking what measures the UK Government is taking to improve the situation and get more empty homes back into use.

The Empty Homes Week annual campaign was due to take place from 21 September, and despite it being officially postponed this year due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Propertymark believes more must be done to get empty homes back into use and it should not be the case that we need a week each year to fix the problem.

Propertymark represents over 18,000 property agents across the UK working in residential sales, lettings and auctions and is part of the Empty Homes Coalition, a group seeking action. We believe empty homes are a wasted resource and more needs to be done to get vacant properties back on the market for would-be home buyers or landlords.

Too many empty homes

The latest UK Government data shows that over 216,000 homes in England have been empty for over six months. In total, over 600,000 homes are currently vacant in England, more than the UK Government’s housebuilding target of 300,000 per year.

Currently, there are over 80,000 empty homes in Band A for Council Tax, with 97 per cent of local authorities reporting high levels of empty homes, citing owners’ inability to fund repairs as the reason.

Tacking the issue

Dealing with empty properties can provide regenerative benefits but it can also bring potential savings for the Government. It can reduce temporary accommodation costs, saving on housing benefit spent in the private rented sector, and reduce the social and economic costs of the poor health, educational, and family outcomes associated with living in poor quality and insecure accommodation.

To further help the situation Propertymark believes the UK Government should restart the Empty Homes Community Grants Programme, which was in place until 2015, and funded community groups to bring redundant residential property back into use. It is vital that there are avenues available for people and local authorities to buy, lease, and refurbish empty homes, providing affordable housing.

57 per cent of Councils with high levels of long-term empty homes say there should be a speedier process for obtaining compulsory purchase orders and more must be done to ensure local authorities can work with owners to bring properties back into use.

Action

Putting measures in place would not only support a healthy housing market which is at the core of the country’s long term economic recovery, but it could also play a vital role in the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda, addressing the need for a greater supply of affordable housing in parts of the country that are perceived as having been ‘left behind’. To this end, the UK Government should commission a study to understand and ultimately deliver improvements to tackle the underlying cause of empty homes in neighbourhoods with higher levels.

Read the full letter