New government must act on empty homes as 85,000 families will be homeless this Christmas

16 December 2019

  • Action on Empty Homes figures show there are 226,000 vacant properties in the UK
  • Nationwide Building Society asks Government to create £185m Empty Homes Fund
  • Incentives should include Council Tax holidays for first-time buyers and tax perks for local authorities

Nationwide Building Society is urging the new Government to resurrect abandoned funding that would bring thousands of empty properties back into use.

With an estimated 226,000 empty properties in England1, the Society believes the time for action is now. This is set against the fact that 85,000 families2 are living in unsuitable and overcrowded temporary accommodation, equating to 126,000 children.

While clearly not a ‘silver bullet’ solution to the housing crisis on its own, bringing empty homes back into use at pace would provide much-needed accommodation, particularly for families up and down the country. At present, those in temporary housing are often subject to unsuitable conditions, at a cost of £1bn per year to the tax-payer.3

To effectively reduce the number of long-term vacant properties, Nationwide is calling for the next Government to establish an enhanced £185 million Empty Homes Fund. This would provide the investment needed to bring 15,000 properties back into use, based on local match-funding.

This follows previous successful funding initiatives. Between 2010-15 the coalition Government spent £216 million on direct funding for local authorities and community groups working to bring empty homes back into use, of which £156 million was spent via two rounds of the Empty Homes Programme. The funding resulted in 9,044 homes being brought back into use.4

Since the closure of the funding, the problem has escalated significantly. The number of empty homes increased 5.3 per cent in 2018 as an additional 10,893 properties were left empty5. This is more than double the 2.6 per cent rise seen in 2017 and marks the second consecutive year where there has been a substantial rise in long-term empty homes, reversing the previous trend of steady declines.

As well as the £185 million fund, Nationwide is also calling on the next Government to:

  • Give local authorities the right resources and powers, with funding for dedicated Empty Homes Officers, including improved Empty Dwelling Management Order powers;
  • Give local authorities the powers they need to create tax incentives to redevelop buildings, such as higher levels of council tax on vacant properties;
  • Introduce a national landlord and property use register as a means of identifying empty homes and helping potential landlords to refurbish their vacant properties;
  • Give a three-year council tax holiday for first-time buyers moving into an Empty Home. This will help to remove barriers and enable properties to be brought back into the market.

Nationwide understands there are legitimate reasons for properties lying empty and hopes this package of measures will help provide the financial support and practical help to enable owners to bring homes back into use if they want to.

While the issue of empty homes is often intensified in large cities, with 80,000 school-aged children6 without a permanent address in London despite there being some 25,000 empty homes, it is an issue that doesn’t discriminate between regions. In Bradford, Grimsby, and North East Lincolnshire, nearly one in every fifty homes is classed as ‘long-term empty’7 , meaning they have been uninhabited for over six months.8

Nationwide Building Society is calling for more action to tackle this major issue and has written to members calling on them to contact their local MPs.

Joe Garner, Nationwide Building Society’s Chief Executive, said: “As a mutual organisation founded on a social purpose to help people in to homes of their own, today we are setting out clear asks of the next Government to tackle the growing issue of empty homes.”

Will McMahon, Action on Empty Homes’ Director, said: “We welcome Nationwide's Empty Homes Manifesto and its key recommendations. Government investment, strengthening council powers and empowering local people to take action, can reverse the recent rise in numbers of empty homes.

A new national strategy can quickly bring into use thousands of empty homes for families who need them. Many communities are already trying to take action to bring the empty properties blighting their neighbourhoods into use, they just need government funding and council support to get the job done.”

1Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government, Housing Statistical Release, 13 Nov 2019: Official Statistics: Council Taxbase 2019 in England Local Authority Data
2Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government, Housing Statistical Release, 13 Nov 2019: Official Statistics: Council Taxbase 2019 in England Local Authority Level Data and House of Commons Library, 15 October 2019, Households in temporary accommodation (England)’ (15 Oct 2019)
3House of Commons Library, 15 October 2019, Households in temporary accommodation (England)’ (15 Oct 2019)
4House of Commons Library, 29 May 2019, Empty Housing (England), Briefing
5Action on Empty Homes, 23 September 2019, Empty Homes in England 2019
6Ministry of Housing and Local Government Statutory Homelessness Statistical Release (Q1 2019) - Released 22 Sept 2019)
7Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government, Housing Statistical Release, 13 Nov 2019: Official Statistics: Council Taxbase 2019 in England Local Authority Data
8House of Commons Library, 29 May 2019, Empty Housing (England), Briefing

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