Effort against Scotland’s empty homes steps up

Thousands more long-term, privately-owned empty homes across Scotland are in the sights of an expanded team which aims to use all its powers to bring them back into use.

A key aim of the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership (SEHP) – which has recently had its funding doubled by the Scottish Government and has doubled the size of its team - is to persuade all local authorities to employ empty homes officers. Currently 10 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities don’t have any staff assigned to empty homes work.

The SEHP says having a dedicated local authority empty homes officer supporting private owners to bring properties back into use has been instrumental in almost all of the successful cases it has seen. The SEHP has various grant-funding packages to help local authorities take that first step toward employing a dedicated empty homes officer.

Funded by the Scottish Government and hosted by Shelter Scotland, the SEHP says there are currently an estimated 37,000 long-term privately-owned empty homes in Scotland. Working with local authorities and empty homes officers, the SEHP has helped bring more than 2,800 empty properties back into use from a standing start in 2010.

Already this year the Western Isles and Aberdeen City councils have taken up partial funding packages from the SEHP which will allow them to test the benefits of having an empty homes officer in their region.

Housing minister Kevin Stewart said: “Making sure everyone has access to a safe, warm place to call home is a priority for the Scottish Government. That’s not just about building new homes, but making better use of existing stock. Long-term empty homes can be a blight on communities and are a wasted resource at a time when we need more homes – bringing them back into use is a cost-effective way to increase supply, and support community regeneration.

“The work of Empty Homes Officers across Scotland has proven invaluable, and local authorities across the country are embracing this work. I am really pleased to see Western Isles and Aberdeen get behind the scheme. I hope to see every area capitalising on those opportunities, to realise our ambitions of an empty homes service in each local authority and to bring back as many long-term empty homes as we can.”

Shaheena Din, national manager for the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership, said: “The evidence is clear – where a local authority employs an empty homes officer the results are outstanding. Some local authorities can bring hundreds of empty homes back into use while others hardly any.

“We urge all local authorities who currently don’t employ an empty homes officer to do so. We can help get the ball rolling to demonstrate the benefits. It’s a win-win situation – empty homes are no longer a blight on their community that attract anti-social behaviour and a home is provided which has an economic benefit to the entire community, as well as council tax revenues to the council.”

The Scottish Empty Homes Partnership will grow from three staff members to five. The extra staff will increase capacity in the Empty Homes Advice Service (EHAS) which takes calls from across Scotland from neighbours, owners, developers and others interested in an empty property. Where no local staff are available the EHAS adviser can provide direct support. The partnership will also research new tools and guides for use by empty homes officers across the country.

Shaheena Din added: “Empty homes work is highly specialist and highly varied. An officer might spend their time tracking down owners, advising people working on a renovation project and supporting people who are grieving, having acquired a property through inheritance. It’s skilled and often sensitive work and we are happy to be able to enhance the support available for the network of empty homes officers across Scotland.”

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