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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

An empty home = an extra family in temporary accommodation or homeless


Half full or half empty? CIH knowledge management and research co-ordinator Sara Graves blogs about how vacant homes could tackle our housing crisis.

Image of modern houseGovernment figures from April suggest that there are fewer empty homes - with numbers falling by a third since 2004 - due largely to the great work that local authorities are doing.

But we can always do more - currently there are 203,596 empty homes in England while 1,240,855 households are on council waiting lists. Those empty homes could make a real difference.

However, it’s not that simple - there is no guarantee that the empty homes are located in the places where there is greatest need, that they are the right types of property or that they could even be made available quickly and easily. For example, there are large numbers of empty properties in parts of the North, but fewer in London.

There are a number of common reasons for homes standing empty:

  • Inherited properties waiting for families to come to a decision on what should be done with them
  • Let properties requiring renovations the landlord cannot afford
  • People taking a long time to 'do up' a property they have bought
  • People keeping properties empty while they wait for prices to rise

The government has taken some steps to help reduce numbers of empty homes, such as allowing local authorities to charge higher rates of council tax for empty properties and ensuring that capital gains tax is payable by non-UK residents on property they own here.

Set against this background, there are a number of different schemes being pursued by local authorities:

  • The London Borough of Enfield is making use of empty homes where the owner has moved to residential care. Through their 'Keeping house' scheme, they use the properties for temporary accommodation. This benefits both the family - which gets a home - and the homeowner, who is able to use the money towards their costs without needing to sell the property.
  • In Stoke on Trent, the council sold properties from its housing market renewal areas for a token £1 to working people on low incomes who might not otherwise be able to consider home ownership. The local authority is offering loans of up to £30,000 to carry out renovations and purchasers must live in their new home for at least five years. The scheme was massively oversubscribed.
  • In Leeds, the city council set up an 'empty homes doctor' scheme to assist people in bringing their empty homes back into use. The scheme is mainly aimed at those who have inherited a property, or moved out of the area or into residential care. The scheme helps by producing a report outlining the options and then an action plan to carry out any work and get the property back into use. There are several case studies on their website.

The above is just a taste of the different schemes in place around the country - more information can be found on the 'Homes from empty homes' website.

We urgently need to increase the number of homes available for those in housing need. We cannot afford to leave homes standing empty for long periods of time - so, as well as building new homes, we need to bring more homes back into use to ensure that everyone has a safe and warm place to call home.

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