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The impact and scale of empty housing

High levels of empty properties are recognised as having a serious impact on the viability of communities. Consequently, it has been identified that dealing with empty properties can have social, regenerative, financial and strategic benefits.

Statistics published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) put the number of empty homes in England in October 2019 at 648,114. This represents a 2.2% increase on the previous year’s total. Of the 648,114, 225,845 were classed as long-term empty properties (empty for longer than six months).

Local authorities’ powers

Local authorities have a range of powers and incentives at their disposal to bring empty homes back into use. These include, but are not limited to, Empty Dwelling Management Orders, Council Tax exemptions and premiums, enforced sales, compulsory purchase, and measures to secure the improvement of empty properties. There are also a range of other initiatives and incentives that can help reduce the number of empty properties, including the sale of empty Government-owned properties, planning measures and Value Added Tax (VAT).

The Coalition Government’s approach 2010-2015

The Coalition’s Programme for Government included a commitment to “explore a range of measures to bring empty homes into use”. Specific funding was made available for this purpose, including £156 million allocated between 2012 and 2015 under two rounds of the Empty Homes Programme (part of the Affordable Homes Programme). An additional £60 million was allocated as part of the Clusters of Empty Homes Programme, which aimed to tackle concentrations of poor quality empty homes in areas of low housing demand.

In 2011, the Government confirmed that councils could attract additional funding under the New Homes Bonus scheme for bringing empty properties back into use. Under the scheme, the Government matched the Council Tax raised for each property brought back into use for a period of six years. Following consultation in 2015, the Conservative Government introduced a national baseline for housing growth of 0.4%, below which the New Homes Bonus is not be paid. The number of years over which payments are made was reduced from six to five in 2017/18 and further reduced to four years from 2018/19.

In September 2013, the Coalition Government provided funding for the Empty Homes Loan Fund, a joint initiative between the charity Empty Homes, Ecology Building Society, and participating local authorities, under which loans were provided to owners of empty properties. The fund was abolished in August 2014 because of low take-up.

The Coalition Government made several other changes concerning empty properties, which are discussed in the briefing including, changes to planning policy; Council Tax measures; and the appointment in April 2012 of George Clark as the Government’s Empty Homes Advisor.

Approaches since 2015

The Shared Ownership and Affordable Homes Programme 2016-21 does not include separate funding for empty homes. In 2015 the Conservative Government said that the £216 million of funding provided between 2012 and 2015 was intended to “provide a push in the right direction” and that there were no plans to provide additional funding.   The New Homes Bonus scheme is still in operation.

The Affordable Homes Programme 2021-2026 can support bids to bring empty homes into use as affordable housing.

Action on Empty Homes campaign

In its 2019 annual report, the national campaigning charity, Action on Empty Homes, made recommendations for central and local government on how to bring more empty homes back into use. Action on Empty Homes commissioned work by ComRes in 2018 to gauge, amongst other things, MPs’ awareness and views on of empty homes in the UK. The results of this research can be found in section 9 of the 2019 annual report. The ComRes polling found:

…huge cross-party parliamentary support for Government to take action on empty homes.

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