A million empty homes…scandal, incompetence or both?

There are nearly a million homes standing empty in England – most are privately owned.  In addition there are estimated to be up to 420,000 potential homes in empty commercial properties, above shops etc. There are 2 million people on council waiting lists. A total of 5 million people are looking for housing in Britain.

With only 120,000 new homes completed last year (Sheffield built 83), the housing shortage is becoming critical . Unless urgent action is taken very soon, the situation could develop into a national emergency. The next riots may not be driven by opportunism and criminality, but by frustration and anger.

Despite several ‘initiatives’ the number of empty homes has remained stubbornly high. They clearly haven’t worked. What is needed is a new set of initiatives that both pressure and incentivise landlords who own empty properties to redevelop and let them (Currently they get an incentive to do nothing because empty properties attract a lower level of council tax).

The pressure needs to be in the form of a significantly higher rate of council tax on empty property, which would increase the longer the property remained empty. (Once any redevelopment had been completed, the council tax would revert to the correct band, but would start to increase again after one year to provide a downward pressure on rents).

The incentive wants to be in the form of generous improvement grants and a lower rate of tax on revenue from rented property.

Councils need to be the drivers of any new initiative and they should have pressures and incentives too, otherwise, as has happened in the recent past, they will do nothing. This could be done by significantly reducing or increasing the level of annual government grant and would depend upon the level of success of returning empty properties to the rental market.

With a lot of talk about the demise of the ‘high street’, isn’t there an opportunity to bring them back to life by turning empty retail premises into homes? Retail landlords should be given the same pressures and incentives as private landlords and councils should be rewarded on how successful they are at regenerating their towns and villages.

If only half the empty properties were returned to the market, that would mean nearly 750,000 homes. It needs to happen.

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