Britain’s ‘shameful waste’ as 1 million homes lie empty

4 Aug 2010

Policy area: Residential

The British Property Federation today urged the government to focus on re-using hundreds of thousands of vacant homes lying unused across the UK.

Over 4 million people are on housing waiting lists and reviving empty homes provides a cheaper alternative to building new ones. Bringing a house back into use can take as little as £10,000, a fraction of the £100,000 cost of building a new social home from scratch.

There are currently 762,000 empty homes in England and close to 1 million in the UK, according to figures released by the independent charity Empty Homes.

Meanwhile, there are 450,000 fewer social homes than a decade ago and with development work having been crippled by the downturn.

This ‘social housing crunch’ has been exacerbated by a £450m cut in the Homes and Communities Agency’s budget that has caused it to scrap two of its Kickstart housing funding projects, while a drop off in section 106 contributions has also reduced new affordable housing.

The BPF has said that renovating empty homes provides a viable alternative to tackle the country’s social housing crisis.  

It would also tackle some of the problems caused by empty homes, which can attract petty crime, squatters, fly tipping, vandalism and occasionally arson – forcing areas with high numbers of empty homes into a spiral of decline.

To solve this, the BPF is calling for:

  • Money to renovate homes. This should be reallocated from the HCA’s temporary social housing grants, which are currently only available for new builds.
  • Government to extend its proposed council tax incentive scheme to cover empty homes, not just new builds.
  • Reusing empty homes can also have environmental benefits. Recent research by Empty Homes New Tricks with Old Bricks showed the renovation of an empty house creates about a third of the CO2 emissions of building a new one.

Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said:

“It’s a shameful waste that so many homes are empty while millions of families living in poverty or without permanent housing. Renovating empty homes is an opportunity for the government to get people of housing waiting lists and into ‘good as new’ homes; it will also save them money and reduce the burden off of over-stretched councils at a time when housing benefit is also being slashed.

“Awarding renovation grants will remove eyesores from the local community and rectify lost incomes for the owner and surrounding landlords. It is a win-win situation for the owner of empty properties and the campaign to recycle existing housing stock.

“With the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review we can expect local authority funding to be cut further. But housing need will not go away and while there is no silver bullet solution, renovating empty homes is a cheap and useful contribution to a huge problem.”

Sue Cocking, head of affordable housing, Knight Frank commented:

“With development pretty much at a standstill over the last couple of years, section 106 contributions have fallen through the floor meaning there is very little developer subsidy coming through to fund new affordable housing supply. Finding ways of minimising pressure on the public purse will be vital if we are to maintain affordable housing supply going forward. Making better use of what we have, and bringing empty homes back into use is a no-brainer that won’t just save public money but will also help tidy up derelict buildings across local communities.”