Action needed as number of long-term empties rises - EHA

The charity Empty Homes has issued a press release calling for more to be done about empty homes as the number has risen for the first time since 2008.

The press release is reproduced below:

ACTION NEEDED AS NUMBER OF LONG-TERM EMPTY HOMES RISES FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE 2008

The campaigning charity Empty Homes calls for Government action as the number of long-term empty homes recorded in official data rose in 2017 for the first time since 2008.

The latest Government data analysed by Empty Homes shows that English local authorities recorded over 205,000 homes long-term (more than six months) empty in their latest council taxbase reports to Government — over 5,000 more than a year earlier. This 2.6% rise is the first increase since 2008, though the proportion of England's homes long-term empty is broadly stable at around 0.85%.

The charity is calling on Government to put tackling empty homes higher on its agenda to reverse the increase and ensure better use is made of long-term empty homes to meet housing needs.

Empty Homes' research shows that 70% or 37 out of 53 of the areas with the highest proportion of homes long-term empty are in the North of England. And there are notably higher proportions of homes long-term empty among both the lowest and highest value properties, although the largest numbers are in the lowest value council tax band.

Commenting on the findings, Empty Homes director Helen Williams says:

"With Government data showing the number of long-term empty homes creeping back up for the first time since 2008, it is time for empty homes to move back up the housing policy agenda. Building new homes is essential, but so too is making the most of our existing properties.

"We are urging the Government to establish funding for neighbourhood improvement schemes in lower value areas to support local authorities and community organisations to buy and refurbish empty properties, and to tackle the underlying causes like poor housing in parts of the private rented sector. This would make a big difference to the people living there and provide an attractive option for people searching for decent housing at a price they can afford in the wider housing market.

"At the same time, there is enough evidence to suggest that Government needs to explore additional measures to stop people buying and holding onto properties not to live in but to store and grow their wealth. Measures could include further reforms to the council tax system to enable councils to charge a lot more where properties are left empty or hardly ever used, or regulation or planning reforms to ensure properties are built and occupied first and foremost to meet housing needs. The findings in detail

Mapping the results, the charity shows that local authorities with a higher proportion of their homes recorded empty for more than six months are often in more northerly areas. 37 of the 53 local authorities with 1.2% or more of their homes long-term empty are in the North, nine are in the Midlands, and seven are in the South.

Map: percentage of homes long-term empty by local authority

 

When the charity analysed the data on a regional basis, the three Northern regions (North East, North West and Yorkshire and Humber) stood out as having the highest percentages of their homes long-term empty. The three Northern regions all had proportions of homes long-term empty at least twice as high as London.

Table: number and percentage of homes long-term (more than six months) empty by region

Region

Homes

No

Homes long-term empty

No

Homes long-term empty

%

North East

1,224,357

17,106

1.4

North West

3,259,372

39,344

1.21

Yorkshire and Humber

2,407,332

27,009

1.12

East Midlands

2,070,625

18,553

0.9

West Midlands

2,471,214

20,996

0.85

South West

2,529,233

18,687

0.74

East of England

2,659,293

17,983

0.68

South East

3,871,368

25,378

0.66

London

3,582,015

20,237

0.56

England

24,074,809

205,293

0.85

 

Recent research from Empty Homes found that neighbourhoods with higher levels of empty homes tend to be places where there are abnormally high levels of substandard private rented housing and residents tend to be on low incomes. The charity is calling on Government to fund community-based neighbourhood improvement schemes in these areas to support local organisations to buy and refurbish empty homes to create decent affordable housing and to tackle the underlying cause of the housing market failure there. Empty Homes challenges the view that there is low demand for housing in lower priced neighbourhoods if homes are refurbished to a decent standard and the wider issues communities face are addressed. The charity says these wider issues can include lack of job opportunities, degraded street environments, and a poor area reputation leading to people thinking of these neighbourhoods as having lots of problems.

The charity also found that among the homes charged council tax across England, the highest proportions that were long-term empty were in the bottom band A (lowest value properties) and the top band H (highest value properties) - 1.51% and 1.4% respectively. The proportion of homes long-term empty in the other bands (B to G) was more consistent (averaging at 0.66%). Empty Homes stresses that it should be noted that band A had the highest number of long-term empty homes (85,856) and band H the lowest number of long­term empty homes (1,929) recorded by the Government data.

Empty Homes concludes that the higher percentage of homes long-term empty in the lowest value properties is likely to relate to the housing market and neighbourhood conditions in some of the poorer neighbourhoods with high levels of poor standard housing. For thehighest value properties, it speculates that "buy-to-leave" could be a factor, with some owners buying properties primarily as wealth accumulators rather than to live in as a home.

Empty Homes warns that the Government statistics on empty homes may undercount the true scale of long-term empty homes, partly because they are derived from local authorities' council tax data and councils do not always know a property is empty. At the same time, the charity cautions that many of the homes that people think of as empty do not count as being empty in the official statistics as they are not empty for council tax purposes as they are furnished and occupied occasionally. Nonetheless, people are concerned that these properties are being underused and wasted in the face of so many people looking for a decent place to call a home.

Ends

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