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The impact of empty homes on communities

High levels of empty properties are recognised as having a serious impact on the viability of communities. As the number of empty properties within an area increases, so can the incidence of vandalism, which acts as a further disincentive to occupation. Tackling empty properties can have social, regenerative, financial, and strategic benefits.

How many empty homes?

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) publishes data on homes classed as empty for Council Tax purposes. In October 2022, there were 676,304 recorded empty homes in England. This is a 3.6% increase on the previous year’s total. 248,149 were classed as ‘long-term vacant’ properties (vacant for more than six months with some exceptions).

Powers to tackle empty homes

Local authorities have a range of powers and incentives at their disposal to bring empty homes back into use. These include, Empty Dwelling Management Orders, council tax exemptions and premiums, enforced sales, compulsory purchase, and measures to secure the improvement of empty properties. A range of other initiatives and incentives are aimed at reducing the number of empty properties, including the sale of empty Government-owned homes and planning measures.

Government policy 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. 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 councils could attract additional funding under the New Homes Bonus (NHB) scheme for bringing empty properties back into use. Initially, the Government matched the council tax raised for each property brought back into use for a period of six years. Following consultation in 2015, a national baseline for housing growth of 0.4% was introduced below which the NHB is not 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 Government provided funding for the Empty Homes Loan Fund, a joint initiative between the charity Empty Homes, Ecology Building Society and participating local authorities. Loans were provided to owners of empty properties. The fund was abolished in August 2014 because of low take-up.

Several other measures were implemented, 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 did not include separate funding for empty homes. In 2015, the Conservative Government said the £216 million of funding provided between 2012 and 2015 was intended to “provide a push in the right direction,” there were no plans to provide additional funding. The Affordable Homes Programme 2021-2026 can support bids to bring empty homes into use as affordable housing.

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. In 2018, Action on Empty Homes commissioned work by ComRes to gauge, amongst other things, MPs’ awareness and views on of empty homes in the UK. The ComRes polling found “huge cross-party parliamentary support for Government to take action on empty homes.”

Crisis, the national charity for people experiencing homelessness, is calling for a concerted effort to repurpose long-term empty properties through a number of measures, including a partnership approach to developing a National Empty Homes Initiative.

During National Empty Homes Week in March 2023, Action on Empty Homes, called for a new Nationally funded Empty Homes Programme “with funding devolved to local councils so they can choose the right mix of ‘stick and carrot’ measures to deal with their local empty homes problems.”

Housing policy is devolved. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have developed their own approaches to tackling empty homes.

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