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Highlights and key issues:

The general picture

1. 2018 saw confirmation that empty homes numbers are rising significantly.

The rise of 5.3%, nearly 11,000 additional long-term empty homes, was double the rise in 2017.


2. All regions experienced rising numbers of empties in 2018, except the North East which fell by 1%, although the highest regional occurrence of empty homes is still in the North East where one in every 72 homes is long-term empty.


3. Two thirds of England’s local authorities saw numbers rise, in half of these the rise was over 10% and in more than one in ten authorities the rise was 30% or more. This has occurred in the context of introduction from April 2019 of new higher council tax premiums for two-year empties with higher punitive premiums for five and ten year empties to follow in 2020 and 2021.


4. The rise was weighted towards areas which previously had a lower number of long-term empties, notably London, the South East and Eastern regions.Over 70% of the authorities demonstrating rises of 30% or more are in these three regions. London up 11%, East of England up 11% and South East excluding London, up 9%.


5. The largest regional number of empty homes, around 40,000, is in the North West.



Concentrations, clusters and bad teeth


1. The Report divides occurrence of empties into concentrations, clusters and ‘bad teeth’: all have negative impacts on neighbouring properties and the wider locality. All can place a disproportionate cost burden on local services as magnets for crime and vandalism. All but the best maintained suck in enforcement and remediation resources from local budgets. All impact negatively on local housing supply.


Looking at the data by Council Tax band


1. All regions demonstrate the highest occurrence of empty homes in the top and bottom council tax bands.  Nationally, nearly 90,000 long-term empty homes are in the bottom council tax band, while only 1,933 are in the top council tax band, less than 1% of the total. The top two Council Tax bands account for less than 4% of empties nationally. The bottom two bands include 60%.


2. Nationally long-term empties are more likely to be smaller and lower value properties. Where these are concentrated, local housing markets can become distorted by levels of empties and low owner occupancy.  Private rented sector homes dominate supply and low-income tenants with poor housing choices can be concentrated into such areas.


Second Homes


1.  This category contains 252,000 homes with no permanent resident. There are 54 areas where at least one home in 50 is a second home.


2. Local council officers report that many ‘second homes’ are unused, some approaching dereliction; and many are owned by absentee owners who hold multiple second homes unused.


3. The ‘second home’ category is poorly defined, inconsistently applied, with one London authority no longer submitting data on this, and may be facilitating property hoarding for wealth storage, as well as tax evasion and money laundering. It also restricts housing supply.


4. In this context, we advocate the adoption of a national property register recording property ownership, usage and current status. This should be linked to a national landlord register, first proposed by Government as long ago as 2009 but never introduced.


Summary Recommendations for change


Central Government should:


1.  Adopt a national investment programme targeted at areas with high levels of long-term empty homes.


2.  Re-establish dedicated funding programmes to support local authorities and housing providers to create affordable housing from long-term empty homes in all parts of England.


3.  Ensure that funding programmes to tackle empty homes are also open to community-led organisations who are not registered providers, and invest in capacity building in this sector.


4.  Provide support for ‘empty home prevention’ schemes, by supporting investment in existing homes. This should include a so-called ‘new Green Deal’ to offer financial support to owners for sustainability measures and home improvements designed to increase the longevity, affordability and environmental efficiency of existing homes, including insulation measures.


5.  Conduct a review of how the legal powers available to local authorities to tackle empty homes and poor standards of management in the private rented sector could be improved.


Local authorities should:


1.  Adopt a strategic approach to empty homes and ensure that approaches in neighbourhoods with high levels of empty homes fit within a local authority-wide empty homes strategy.


2.  Support community-based regeneration approaches. This should include working with communities to develop neighbourhood improvement plans to tackle empty homes and the wider linked issues that they face.


3.  Adopt an ‘invest to save’ approach - recognising how supporting local schemes and services can bring wider benefits to local people, such as jobs and improved community safety, improved health and well-being; and increasing the supply of secure affordable housing.


4.  Seek funding and allocate resources to buy and refurbish empty properties for people in housing need.


5.  Help community-based organisations wishing to build their know-how and skills to bring empty homes back into use by providing capacity-building support.

Second homes and lettings


1. Discussions with officers around the country lead Action on Empty Homes to the conclusion that the definition of ‘second homes’ requires tightening.


2. There needs to be an examination of the impact, regulation and taxation of the short-term or holiday lettings market as a part of this review.


3. A national register of home beneficial home ownership and usage should be introduced


Further info: Chris Bailey, [email protected] M: 07979 647 237 T 020 7832 5808


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