Britain's empty home crisis: what is it, and can we fix it?

by Housesimple on 12th December 2017

While the UK is currently undergoing a serious housing crisis, it turns out we might already be sitting on a property supply worth £43 billion. New government figures have found that, in England alone, around 200,000 homes have been empty for the past six months. With homelessness in the UK on the rise and first-time buyers still struggling to get a foot on the property ladder, it's time we found out why so many homes are being left unoccupied.

 

The buy-to-leave phenomenon

Property investment has the potential for a healthy return on your money – especially if you're one of the super-rich splashing out on London real estate. Wealthy buyers often purchase homes and leave them empty while they wait for prices to climb – a trick that's a little like speculating on the stock market. However, many investors rent out their properties while they wait and a recent report from Savills found that most international buyers do this.

 

Not-so-vacant homes

To get its vacant homes statistics, the government looks at properties where council tax isn't being paid because there's no-one living there. Buy-to-leave is just one of the reasons at play. Vacancy can also be triggered by renovation works, gaps between tenancies and inheritance issues (for example, if the deceased person didn't leave a will). These types of properties can't be freed up for the wider property market, as they're technically still occupied. 

 

Falling figures

Although the 200,000 figure seems startlingly high, it's actually a climb-down of 36.4% since 2006 – just before the property bubble burst. In the past two years, most areas of London have seen a drop in the number of vacant homes. Newham, which once had the highest number of vacancies, saw its figure drop by 55% between 2015 and 2016.

 

What's being done

Councils across Britain have had the power to seize empty homes since 2006, and the huge drop in figures over the past ten years could be a result of this strategy. In the latest budget, Philip Hammond also gave councils the ability to charge a 100% council tax premium on empty homes. On a disruptive note, proptech startups like YouSpotProperty incentivise people to report empty homes by offering them a gift voucher. 

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