'Do more about empty homes', government urged

New research from Halifax and the Empty Homes Agency shows how strongly the public feel about empty homes. They want the government and local authorities to do more about them. The survey by ComRes of over 2,000 people across England, Scotland and Wales revealed that

  • 78% think the Government should place a higher priority on tackling empty homes
  • 74% think their local authorites should do more to tackle empty homes
  • 36% think empty homes are a blight in their particular area

Since 2009, the Empty Homes Network has been arguing for a proper national initiative to address the issue of empty homes and it is signficant that more people thought the government should make it a higher priority than thought local councils should - although both figures were high.

Similarly, we have argued that it is necessary to have a robust and visible empty homes strategy in order to offset opposition to new housebuilding: the survey supports this view. 78% of respondents also agreed with the statement that "the goverment focuses too much on building new homes, and not enough on bringing empty homes back into use".

The strong response was doubly significant because it turns out that most people actually underestimate the numbers of empty homes with over 80% of respondents in England providing too low an estimate of the number of empties compared with the figures supplied by the Empty Homes Agency.

Support across the board

The full survey data provides analyses of responses by gender, age, social "grade", employment sector, voting intention and region. It is interesting to see how small the variations are across these different categories. Certainly, political affiliation does not seem to make a huge difference and any of the four "main" political parties (now considered to be Con., Lab., Lib-Dem., UKIP) that wants to ignore the issue would, on this evidence, be doing so against the wishes of its supporters.

For example, in response to the question about whether the government should give higher priority to tackling empty homes, the percentages of those agreeing (strongly agree, tend to agree) were

  • Con. 78%
  • Lab. 81%
  • LibDem 85%
  • UKIP 80%

The only variation worthy of note is that young people seemed less concerned about the issue than older people. So on the question just mentioned, those agreeing rose steadily from 63% in the 18-24 age group to 85% in the 65+ age group. The 18-24s also had a much higher percentage of "don't knows".

What policy?

The survey asked interesting questions about what policies an incoming government should implement. Respondents were invited to select up to 3 out of 4 policy options, with the results as follows:

  1. 66%: Making use of empty homes to help young people get on the housing ladder.
  2. 50% Committing in its first year to creating a policy that will focus on bringing long-term empty homes back into use.
  3. 45% Making it easier for owners of un-used commercial property to turn these spaces into homes.
  4. 36% Committing to halving the number of long-term empty homes within ten years.

EHN has been emphasising the need for a strategic approach to empty homes and it is encouraging that the second option selected is the development of a policy rather than the more concrete and perhaps more immediately appealing alternatives of 3 or 4.

The second policy choice is now being highlighted by the Empty Homes Agency as the central theme of its new campaign. In the joint press release with Halifax, Helen Williams, Chief Executive of the Empty Homes Agency, is quoted as saying:

Today we are launching a campaign asking all the Westminster political parties to pledge that, if they form the next government, they will adopt a plan to tackle empty homes within their first year, as part of a wider approach to tackling housing need.

More information

The full ComRes research can be found via our Information Library here.

There is a kind of robot youtube podcast of the Empty Homes Agency press release here.

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