England’s housing provision is in crisis. There are currently 1.7 million people on housing waiting lists. Repossession and homelessness are at record levels. Overcrowding and poor living conditions commonplace. Clearly the coalition’s plan to build 150,000 new homes over the course of the next four years, will be insufficient.
Are new homes the answer? It is estimated by Shelter the housing charity that there are currently over 1 million empty homes (over a third of these have been empty for more that 6 months). It is important to note that these figures are derived from Council Tax records; and do not include uninhabitable or homes due for demolition. Nor do the statistics include flats above shops. More in depth facts and figures can be obtained here. The vast majority of empty homes are privately owned. Click here for an interactive map of empty homes provided by Shelter.
There are multiple reasons why a property may be empty. Some perfectly legitimate such as a pending change of ownership, or in some instances the owners may need to move due to care needs. However, there is a more insidious group of private owners and property companies who land bank large portfolios as long term investments. This is where new legislation is required.
Efforts are being made to tackle the problem; the government has introduced an empty homes grant, which will be rolled out later this year more information is available here . Councils are being encouraged to charge higher council tax rates on empty properties, and are offered incentives to bring their own empties back into use.
These are by no means new observations in fact Channel 4 aired “The Great British Property Scandal” Nov 2010 fronted by the architect George Clarke. This was the launch of a national campaign to encourage the reporting of empty property. So far nearly 10,000 people have taken the time to report an empty property. If you are interested in this campaign more information can be found here.
A final thought; approximately one hundred and fifteen billion pounds is tied up in the value of empty homes in England (that’s the equivalent of 8% of Britain’s £1.5bn national debt). Or to put it another way the equivalent of the UK’s whole public sector net borrowing for an entire year.