Why are there so many Empty Homes in the UK?

In the news lately, the focus has moved away from the headlines of a current housing deficit, and shifted the focus on to the increase in vacant homes. The shocking statistics have been highlighted and the reasons why more is not being done to make vacant dwellings an easy way to ease the housing crisis.

A shocking figure of long-term vacant homes in England, indicates that in 2017 over 200,000 homes have been empty for at least six months. According to the Ministry of Housing, Community and Local Government statistics these homes are worth almost £50bn.

Some areas of the country have much higher levels of vacant homes than some regions, with some regions such as London seeing a 229% increase, and York a 322% increase in empty homes in 2016-2017.

Birmingham, Bradford and Liverpool had the highest levels with well over 3,000 long-term vacant properties, with Leeds, Sheffield, Sefton, Sunderland and Doncaster following suit all with over 1,500 empty homes. In the London boroughs, Croydon, Kensington and Chelsea all had over 1,000 recorded empty homes making them the highest areas of the capital.

Empty Homes is an independent charity which tries to bring vacant homes back into residential use. With figures obtained from the council tax database, it shows that the numbers are increasing, yet what is being done? Although the figures may not seem astronomical, with the current housing crisis that keeps being reported surely any figures are too high.

Why are so many homes vacant?

Some of the empty homes in England are empty for legitimate reasons. Sometimes the normal market process may take longer than expected and others are held up with probate, inheritance or owners moving into residential care. These can all impact on the length of time a home is empty, with many months being quite normal.

However, there are far too many long term empty homes in England which ‘Empty Homes’ lists in three key points.

The first shows that 37 out of the 53 local authorities recording at least 1.2% of properties being empty are in the North of England.

Generally, the proportions that are higher are seen in areas where house prices are lower, and incomes are lower. These areas are usually where there has been an industrial decline in recent decades, making house prices too expensive for the low incomes found.

‘Empty Homes’ has said that there is not a shortage of people prepared to move to a different part of the country to find an affordable home. With a national housing crisis surely every empty house is an asset that needs to be invested in and made available.

‘Empty Homes’ promotes community-based efforts to raise awareness nationally for Government to invest in these communities found mainly in the North and in Coastal regions.

What is the Government doing?

At present there is no funding targeting the wort-affected regions. The ‘Clusters of Empty Homes Fund’ ended back in 2015, with repair and improvement grants no longer available either. Some Local Councils employ specialist housing officers that help establish programmes to bring properties back into use. Although with this being localised, key areas are missing out. ‘Empty Homes’ are working with community-based charities around the country to help set up projects.

In the 2017 Autumn Budget new powers have allowed local authorities to tax empty houses, but is this enough of an incentive?

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