The Scandal Of Empty Homes Amidst Rising Homelessness

Half a million homes across the UK are being left unused, as the number of families living in temporary accommodation continues to rise every year. Liverpool has 4,631 long-term empty homes, accounting for 1.99% of residential properties

While the Government boasts of efforts to build more houses, campaigners say increasing homelessness shows something is still going wrong, reports The Metro. They say too much emphasis is being put on attracting investors for homes well out of many families’ price range, while what is really needed is more social housing. Figures from the Ministry of Housing show Cornwall has a total of 16,713 homes out of regular use, the highest of any local authority in the country, accounting for one in every 16 properties. While 13,642 of these include second homes, 3,071 were classified separately as long-term empty (left vacant for six months or longer), up from 2,840 last year.

One in nine homes in the wealthy west London borough of Kensington and Chelsea are out of regular use, with 1,306 long-term empty properties and 9,045 second homes. Separate figures show 2,275 households in the local authority are in temporary accommodation, meaning they have been unable to secure proper, long-term housing. Elsewhere in the capital, 9,595 homes remain out of regular use in Camden, accounting for one in 12 properties. These include 8,150 second homes and 1,445 long-term empty properties, while 545 families are stuck in temporary accommodation. The east London borough of Tower Hamlets has 1,035 long-term empty homes and 7,405 second homes, up 1,165 from last year. Meanwhile, Manchester had 6,671 second homes this year and 1,455 long-term empty properties, while 2,313 families in the city’s central borough remain homeless.

Chris Bailey, from charity Action on Empty Homes, told Metro.co.uk: “Government has praised increased rates of house building, but numbers of both empty homes and homeless families keep on rising. If we are building more homes and both homelessness and numbers of empty homes are still rising, then we are getting housing wrong in this country. We are building the wrong housing to meet the most urgent needs. We need to stop building homes for investors and start building and renovating the homes that we need for the 98,300 families and their 129,000 children who are stuck in overcrowded and unsuitable temporary accommodation.”

He added: “Government needs to back councils with investment and with improved powers to bring empty homes into use, where owners won’t or can’t. Keeping half a million homes empty in the middle of a housing crisis, which is worsening as coronavirus destroys jobs and lives, simply makes no sense. It is time to start creating homes and stop flushing over a billion pounds a year down the toilet on poor quality temporary accommodation for families who are all entitled to decent, affordable, social homes.” As well as more social housing, Mr Bailey says carrot-and-stick methods such as punitive taxes against owners of unused homes and incentives to rent them out could also help.

The number of people in temporary accommodation has been rising steadily since December 2011, according to a Parliamentary briefing paper published last month. Out of the 98,300 households in temporary accommodation in June 2020, 64% (62,670 households) were placed in temporary accommodation by London local authorities. The number of families with children placed in B&B-style accommodation increased from 630 at the end of March 2010 to 1,440 at the end of June 2020, but this was 58% lower than a peak in September 2016.

Adam Higgins, co-founder of Manchester based property developers Capital & Centric, says that despite a boom in new-build apartments in town and city centres over the past decade, securing funding for these projects often proves difficult. He says most developers have to go to banks, who insist on a huge chunk of properties being pre-sold, before construction, to reduce their risk. Many families aren’t keen on buying a home that hasn’t even been built, so investors, often from overseas, tend to buy these up instead. As a country that has been comparatively stable, both politically and economically, Britain’s property market is an attractive place for rich investors from countries like China, Russia and Saudi Arabia to park their assets, safe from the clutches of authorities at home.

With house prices continuing to rise overall, many aren’t fussed about renting these properties out and giving people a place to call home. Mr Higgins added: “We’ve done our own research – we think something like 76% of properties in the UK are being targeted at investors and only about 2% of apartments coming onto the market are being targeted specifically at owner occupiers. It has its place by the way, because without that I think there would be a lot less homes being built, which would ultimately put up the prices for everybody. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, I just don’t think there’s a very balanced approach.”

He added: “Any proceeds they do make from investing in housing stays in their own city, and that only really happens with owner occupiers. If you’ve got a building that’s sold to owner-occupiers they’re naturally going to take care of it. It’s going to be incredibly difficult to get these investors back to repair the windows or paint the walls or repair the roof.”

A Ministry of Housing and Local Government spokesperson told Metro.co.uk: “Reducing the number of households in temporary accommodation is a priority for this Government. This is why we are investing over £750 million to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping next year. Our Homelessness Reduction Act has helped over 270,000 households who were homeless or at risk of homelessness into more permanent accommodation, since it came into force in 2018. We have given councils strong powers and incentives to tackle empty properties, including the power to increase council tax by up to 200%  – rising to 300% next year. They also receive the same New Homes Bonus for bringing an empty home back into use as for building a new one.”