24 September 2019

Fastest rise in empty homes since recession

  • Action on Empty Homes and Nationwide call for targeted national investment to bring homes back into circulation to help reduce the housing crisis

  • Empty homes in England increase by 5% (11,000) – double the rise of previous year

  • Now more than 200,000 empty homes across the country after second year-on-year rise

Action on Empty Homes and us are calling for targeted national investment to bring homes back into circulation to help reduce the housing crisis. This follows research today from Action on Empty Homes revealing the fastest rise in the number of long-term empty homes in England since the recession.

The number of empty homes has increased 5.3 per cent in 2018 as an additional 10,983 homes were left empty. This is more than double the 2.6 per cent rise seen in the previous year and marks the second consecutive year with a substantial increase in numbers of long-term empty homes, reversing the previous trend of steady declines seen since 2008.

Across England, there are now more than 216,000 long-term empty homes, equivalent to 72 per cent of the government’s annual new homes target, at a time when more than a million families are on waiting lists for local authority housing. Empty homes occur in all Council Tax bands but are particularly prevalent in the highest band (Band H) and in the lowest band (Band A).

Top 10 Local Authorises with the fastest rises in long-term empty homes1

Local Authority Number of Empty homes % Rise YoY
Aylesbury Vale 404 221
Portsmouth UA 939 102
Southwark 1766 57
Hartlepool UA 726 54
Cotswold 481 50
Eastbourne 518 48
Woking 346 47
York UA 527 47
Sutton 686 46
Rutland UA 183 44

The increase in long-term empty homes is occurring across England. Two thirds of the country’s 326 local authorities are experiencing a year-on-year uplift. More than a third of local authorities are seeing uplifts greater than 10 per cent; while more than one in ten is witnessing an increase of 30 per cent or more. Five local authorities including Portsmouth, Southwark and Hartlepool have all seen surges of more than 50 per cent2. If this rate of increase continues, a third (34%) of all homes in Hartlepool will be empty by 20253.

The significant increase in empty homes is being driven by the end of the Coalition Government’s Empty Homes Programme and a more recent slowdown in the housing market. The Coalition’s programme, ended in 2015, used several targeted funds to invest £216 million in bringing over 9,000 long-term empty homes back into use.

Tackling the problem

To reduce the number of long-term empty homes, Action on Empty Homes and us are calling for central government to establish a new £185 million Empty Homes Fund to provide the targeted national investment needed to bring 15,000 empty homes back into circulation, based on local match-funding. Similar to earlier targeted funds, this approach aims to provide financial and practical support to owners of these empty homes to help bring the properties back into circulation, where they wish to do so.

The fund would also enable local authorities, social landlords and community-based organisations to buy or lease empty properties to refurbish them, supporting local businesses such as small builders. The Empty Homes Fund would also support wider community-based regeneration approaches that tackle the underlying causes of empty homes in these areas. By increasing the housing supply, the programme could reduce public spending on temporary accommodation and housing benefit spent in the private rental sector.

Reducing the number of empty homes also has huge cross-party parliamentary support. A ComRes poll of MPs commissioned by Action on Empty Homes shows that 72 per cent of MPs polled rank action on empty homes as one of their top two priorities for combating the current housing crisis. More than 80 per cent support targeted funding for local authorities, charities and local organisations to buy, lease or refurbish empty homes.

Joe Garner, chief executive of Nationwide, said:

“Concerted action and funding are needed from Government and the housing sector to identify and tackle the growing issue of empty homes. It’s a missed opportunity that there are 200,000 empty properties that could house people desperately needing a home of their own.”

“There’s no silver bullet to the housing shortage but alongside new housebuilding, empty homes can make a significant difference – these properties are often good quality and can be converted for a fairly modest cost”

“As a mutual our core purpose is to support people into homes so we are calling to combine central government grants, local authority loans and council tax breaks for people taking them on. We believe that these policies will encourage people to refurbish their empty homes or sell them to local authorities, social landlords or community-based organisations.”

Will McMahon, Director of Action on Empty Homes said:

“With homeless numbers at their highest levels in over a decade, it makes no sense to leave hundreds of thousands of homes standing long-term empty. Like the housing crisis, empty homes are a national problem, two-thirds of councils have rising numbers. National problems need national solutions.”

“The Government must provide a solution for every street in Britain. Significant investment is needed to turn around communities that have faced under-investment for decades, and all local councils need new powers to take action. England’s 216,000 empty homes are everyone’s problem and everyone’s opportunity. The time for action is now.”

1A long-term empty home is defined as a property which has been substantially unfurnished and unoccupied for more than six months
2Excludes Isles of Scilly and City of London
3At 54% annual growth in the number of empty homes, there would be 14,913 empty homes in Hartlepool in 2025. This equivalent to 34% of current total stock (43,802)

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