NEW REPORT: 'Pretty Vacant' published 28th April 2020 click here to download the report 

The empty promises at the heart of housing policy:

New report reveals why the next 500 high rise towers won’t end London’s housing crisis and the Government action needed

‘Pretty Vacant’, a new report launched today by Action on Empty Homes, shines a light on how property investors are reducing Londoners access to housing.

The report reveals:

  • London housing policy is based on meaningless and inaccurate data. There is huge variation in numbers of recorded empty and second homes between similar, neighbouring London boroughs.
  • Wealth investment leaves an estimated 125,000 homes in London without anyone living in them.
  • Airbnb and short-term lettings are sucking tens of thousands of homes out of London’s residential supply.
  • Tens of thousands of homes are under construction which are destined to deliver for investors without housing any Londoners.

The Report’s Policy recommendations show that Government can take action to solve this[i]


Chris Bailey, Campaign Manager and author of the report for Action on Empty Homes, said:

“This report reveals why the 500 plus high-rise towers with planning permission in London won’t solve London’s housing crisis. Too many are destined to end up pretty vacant as unregulated Airbnb lets, second homes and buy to leave investments, while London councils spend over £700 million annually on insecure Temporary Accommodation for 57,000 families, including 80,000 children.”

Bharat Mehta, Chief Executive of Trust for London, said:  

“The COVID-19 crisis has shown us that, more than ever, all Londoners need access to good quality housing they can afford. The Government kept many building sites open, in an effort to ease the ongoing housing crisis. We have to make sure that those workers, taking risks every day, are building homes in London for people to live, not just for investors or short-term lets.”

Will McMahon, Action on Empty Homes Director, said:

“Government can take action to solve this. We need a robust register of residential property ownership and usage and effective regulation of second homes and short-term lets. Local authorities should be given planning powers and resources to ensure homes are built for residential use rather than as wealth investments.”

Baruch, homeless user of drop-in services at The Connection at St Martin’s, Charing Cross

“There isn’t a shortage of empty houses in London - almost every street has them. People are playing a power game with housing - it is like London is having a war with itself and people are suffering.”

[i]  Policy recommendations of the ‘Pretty Vacant’ report:


  1. We need to know the facts and figures to create policy that delivers


London needs a register of residential property ownership and usage, only this can help ensure that property is utilised and taxed appropriately


  1. So-called ‘second homes' are currently not a meaningful or useful category


The second home definition requires reform – to distinguish whether these homes are really used in this way, are actually just long-term empty homes, or are used as short-term lets.


  1. Short-term lets are sucking property out of residential supply but we can’t tell how much or control it


Airbnb and short-term lets require effective regulation and data-sharing with local government.


  1. Planning powers are undermined if property built as homes is used for other purposes


Local authority planning powers need review, to ensure that housing developments privilege primary residential usage and limit homes without residents, through requiring specific planning criteria for these.


  1. Where councils find abuses and wasted homes, stronger powers and faster action are needed


Councils need new powers to take effective, timely action on London’s empty homes:

 a) Two years is too long to wait to charge premiums on homes empty for no good reason, there are ample exemptions to avoid abuses

 b) All councils need dedicated officers to appraise empties and second homes and where possible to support owners in bringing them into residential use

 c) Where owners will not cooperate, enhanced powers are needed for councils to bring property into use, including improvements to Empty Dwelling Management Orders to allow them to be more effectively utilised.