Housing Supply and Rents Property Management

Empty homes week: the scandal of unused properties

Sally Walmsley
Written by Sally Walmsley

We are in the midst of a national housing crisis – yet there are around 205,000 homes in England – worth an estimated £50 billion – currently lying empty.

These homes, the equivalent of around 0.85% of the total housing stock, have been empty for more than six months, and the figure is on the rise.

In 2017 the number of long-term empty homes nationally was up by more than 5,000, a 2.6% rise on the previous year, and the first increase since 2008.

This week is Empty Homes Week 2018, organised to shine a light on the situation – and flag up the advice and assistance available locally to tackle empty homes.

The event is organised by charity Empty Homes, which has produced research on the scale of the issue. Its most recent  report can be read here.

The charity is encouraging local authorities to introduce empty homes strategies for their areas, with the aspiration to reduce the number of long-term empty homes.

It is also asking councils to work with owners of long-term empty properties – including landlords – to encourage, advise and support them to bring homes back into housing use.

There are a number of innovative projects across the UK, many of which are able to offer grants or interest free loans to landlords to bring empty properties back into use.

One such project is run by RLA member, Methodist Action North West.

Methodist Action North West: Bringing empty rental homes back into use

Methodist Action North West used a government grant to bring more than 100 rental homes back into use for those in housing need.

The charity was launched to manage homeless accommodation created by converting part of a church in Preston.

However, it was soon apparent that the people it was helping had very few options when it came to moving on, and it was becoming bed-blocked.

The charity then applied to the government’s, now defunct, Empty Homes Programme. It put a bid together and secured a half a million-pound grant to make the plans a reality.

Steve Heatherington, a former architect and CEO of the charity said: “Some projects buy up empty homes, but we wanted to make the money go as far as we could, so used a lease model.

“Basically, we approached the owners of empty homes and told them; here’s a scheme that will bring your home back into use, will save you the 150% council tax bill you’re paying – and we will invest in bringing the property back up to standard.

“We offered £4,500 per bedroom towards the work, and if the costs came out higher the owner contributed to make up the difference.

“We are a one-stop shop so did everything from that point – came up with the schedule of work, employed the contractors – then the landlord would sign a five, seven- or 10-year lease with us.”

Under the scheme the charity is the tenant and ‘sub-lets’ to people in need, managing all aspects of the tenancy.

The rents are calculated around the Local Housing Allowance, so people are paying affordable rents. The charity underwrites a fixed amount to the landlord and covers its own costs.

Mr Heatherington added: “Of course, landlords would be able to get more in rent if they rented privately, but we are doing something different and that appeals to some landlords who we see as our partners.”

The project received about a million pounds in total and is in operation across Preston, South Ribble and Lancaster, bringing 107 properties – or 217 bedrooms – back into operation in just two-and-a-half years. It also attracted half a million pounds of private investment from property owners.

The charity is now working with another charitable organisation on a project in Blackburn.

Find out more

Anyone who would like to find out more about the empty homes programme currently running in Preston, Lancaster, Blackburn and Darwen, or would like to support the project, should email administration@methodistaction.co.uk or call 01772 751000.

To find out more about Empty Homes Week, and to  out if grant funding or loans to help bring empty homes back into use are available for landlords in your area you can visit the Empty Homes website. The site also includes frequently asked questions if you are interested in getting involved in bringing empty homes back into use.

You can also get in touch with your local authority. They often have dedicated empty homes teams.

The issue of empty homes and what can be done to tackle it will be explored in more depth in the next edition of Residential Property Investor, out in the second week in November.

About the author

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley is the Communications Manager for the RLA and award-winning Editor of RPI magazine. With 16 years’ experience writing for regional and national newspapers and magazines she is responsible for producing articles for our Campaigns and News Centre, the weekly E-News newsletter and editorial content for our media partners.

She issues press releases promoting the work of the RLA and its policies and campaigns to the regional and national media and works alongside the marketing team on the association’s social media channels to build support for the RLA and its work.

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