Swindon & Wiltshire Business News

Nationwide urges action on empty homes

Joe Garner

Swindon-based building society nationwide is urging government action on vacant properties in the UK.

An estimated 85,000 families found themselves homeless this Christmas, while there are around two-and-a-half times as many empty residential properties in which they could be housed.

Now the building society is asking the government to resurrect the abandoned £185m Empty Homes Fund.

Joe Garner, Nationwide Building Society’s chief executive, said: "The funding – Council Tax holidays for first-time buyers and tax perks for local authorities – with incentives including would bring thousands of empty properties back into use.

"While clearly not a ‘silver bullet’ solution to the housing crisis on its own, bringing empty homes back into use at pace would provide much-needed accommodation, particularly for families up and down the country. At present, those in temporary housing are often subject to unsuitable conditions, at a cost of £1 billion per year to the tax-payer.

“As a mutual organisation founded on a social purpose to help people in to homes of their own, today we are setting out clear asks of the next Government to tackle the growing issue of empty homes.”

Between 2010-15 the coalition Government spent £216 million on direct funding for local authorities and community groups working to bring empty homes back into use, of which £156 million was spent via two rounds of the Empty Homes Programme. The funding resulted in 9,044 homes being brought back into use.

Since the closure of the funding, the problem has escalated significantly. The number of empty homes increased 5.3 percent in 2018 as an additional 10,893 properties were left empty – more than double the 2.6 percent rise seen in 2017 and marking the second consecutive year where there has been a substantial rise in long-term empty homes, reversing the previous trend of steady declines.

As well as the £185 million fund, Nationwide is also calling on the next Government to:

  • Give local authorities the right resources and powers, with funding for dedicated Empty Homes Officers, including improved Empty Dwelling Management Order powers
  • Give local authorities the powers they need to create tax incentives to redevelop buildings, such as higher levels of council tax on vacant properties
  • Introduce a national landlord and property use register as a means of identifying empty homes and helping potential landlords to refurbish their vacant properties
  • Give a three-year council tax holiday for first-time buyers moving into an Empty Home. This will help to remove barriers and enable properties to be brought back into the market.

Will McMahon, director of Action on Empty Homes, said: “We welcome Nationwide's Empty Homes Manifesto and its key recommendations. Government investment, strengthening council powers and empowering local people to take action, can reverse the recent rise in numbers of empty homes.

"A new national strategy can quickly bring into use thousands of empty homes for families who need them. Many communities are already trying to take action to bring the empty properties blighting their neighbourhoods into use, they just need government funding and council support to get the job done.”