The number of empty properties in England has risen to the highest level seen since the last recession in 2009, according to a new report by Action on Empty Homes and Nationwide.
Empty homes have increased by 5.3 per cent, or 10,983 homes, in 2018, taking the total to 216,000 across England as a whole. This increase represents the second year-on-year rise, with some towns experiencing substantial increases in the number of empty properties.
In the town of Aylesbury, for example, the number of empty dwellings grew by 221 per cent year-on-year, taking the total number to 404. Two-thirds of England’s 326 local authorities have reported a year-on-year uplift, while a third of them saw empty property numbers rise by more than 10 per cent.
Despite this, over a million families are reportedly on waiting lists for local authority housing, reflecting an imbalance in the supply of properties.
Adding to the housing crisis
The rising number of empty properties comes, as the National Landlords Association recently warned that the scrappage of Section 21 could lead to a 20 per cent decline in the supply of homes in the English private rental market, equivalent to 960,000 dwellings.
The increase in the number of empty homes reflects another example of the national housing crisis. A report by the National Housing Federation in late September reported that over eight million people are affected by the crisis, due to problems, such as a lack of affordable homes, poor-quality housing and overcrowding, particularly in urban areas.
Nationwide and Action on Empty Homes identified that, while empty properties are present in all council tax bands, they were particularly prevalent among properties in council tax bands A and H. This corresponds to properties estimated to have been worth £40,000 or less (Band A), or those worth £320,000 or more (Band H), on 1st April 1991.
Action urgently required
Nationwide and Action on Empty Homes both commented on the idle property findings, calling on central government to create a new £185 million Empty Homes Fund, which they wanted to bring 15,000 empty homes back into circulation, based on local match-funding.
The fund would provide financial and practical support to owners of empty homes, and also enable local authorities, social landlords and local organisations to lease empty properties, allowing them to be refurbished. This would have the benefit of stimulating activity among local businesses, such as local builders, according to Nationwide and Action on Empty Homes.
Joe Garner, chief executive at Nationwide, explained: “There’s no silver bullet to the housing shortage, but alongside new housebuilding, empty homes can make a significant difference – these properties are often good-quality, and can be converted for a fairly modest cost.”
The government has been committed to helping alleviate the UK’s housing crisis, by setting an annual target of 300,000 new homes in England by the mid-2020s, as laid out in plans back in their spring statement in March.