empty homes

Solving the UK’s empty homes problem to ease the housing crisis

The number of empty homes in England has risen for the first time in 10 years and now accounts for around £50bn worth of the country’s property stock.

Since 2008 when there were almost 327,000 properties sitting vacant across England, the number of empty homes has been falling as people got back on their feet after the financial crisis – but now the latest government data, analysed by HouseSimple, has shown that the figure has grown again by 2.6% over the past year to 205,293.

The data looking at specific cities shows that London has the biggest problem, with 20,237 properties vacant for six months or more as of 2017. This was followed by Birmingham with 4,280, Bradford with 3,931, Liverpool with 3,889 and Leeds with 2,709.

York saw the biggest rise in the number of empty homes year-on-year of 322%, while the city of London’s long-term vacant properties rose by 229% and Cambridge registered 156% more homes that had been empty for six months or more.

Why has it increased?

One suggestion put forward by Lawrence Bowles of Savills is that “it’s likely there’s a baseline level representing homes in probate and/or being refurbished, so it could just be a variation about that baseline level”.

Another issue is so-called “buy-to-leave” landlords, who purchase property and leave it empty as they wait for the value to go up before selling it on for a profit. However, they are already being targeted by some councils imposing higher rates of council tax on owners of properties that sit vacant for a certain length of time.

Sam Mitchell, chief executive of HouseSimple, thinks the government ought to address the issue urgently as it could help to ease the current housing crisis being faced by much of the UK – although long-term empty homes only actually make up around 0.9% of the country’s total housing stock.

“There are only so many times you can hear the latest housing minister declare we have a broken housing market and keep faith that they understand the scale of the problem.”

He added: “It would be good to see the government actually do something about all these empty homes for a change.”

Empty homes in the north-west

Although the city of Manchester was much lower down the list with 1,365 homes sitting unoccupied for half a year or more, across the Greater Manchester region as a whole the issue was on a much larger scale with as many as 11,000 empty homes, which is around one in every 100 properties.

John Ryan, of Shelter Manchester, said: “Nobody wants to see homes left empty whilst we’re in the midst of a housing crisis, but the sad fact is that even if every empty house in Greater Manchester was put back into use, it still wouldn’t solve our housing shortage.

“The real story here is that for decades we simply haven’t built enough homes, meaning thousands of people are now trapped in expensive and unstable private renting.”

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