Greens urge action on Scotland’s ‘hundred thousand’ empty underused homes

The Scottish Government needs to play catch-up on the worsening problem of empty homes and second homes if it is to tackle the housing crisis, according to the Scottish Greens.

Publishing a major new report on the issue, the party’s housing spokesperson Andy Wightman MSP reveals that over the last decade as homelessness has worsened, the proportion of empty homes in Scotland has risen from 2.76% to 3.05% - a situation he describes as “incredulous”.

He also reveals that Freedom of Information requests to Scotland’s 32 councils show that only two-thirds employ an empty homes officer to tackle the problem.

Whilst the number of second homes is falling slightly (from 38,249 in 2012 to 25,713 in 2017), it is offset by the rapid rise in short-term letting. Second homes now account for almost 50 per cent of properties in some areas, depriving local people of affordable housing and undermining public services.

Mr Wightman’s report shows:

  • The five council areas with the greatest proportion of empty homes are rural (Western Isles, Orkney, Shetland, Borders and Argyll & Bute)
  • The five council areas with the greatest number of empty homes are predominantly urban (Edinburgh, Glasgow, Fife, Aberdeenshire & Aberdeen City)
  • The five neighbourhoods with the largest number of empty homes are in deprived areas (Toryglen and Carnwadric in Glasgow, Clydebank, Kildrum in North Lanarkshire and Port Glasgow in Inverclyde.
  • The Scottish Greens are calling for an overhaul of housing laws to standardise terminology so that empty homes data are consistent (Scottish Government says there are 37,000 empty homes; National Records says 79,000) and to curb the tax loophole that allows owners of second homes to avoid paying council tax by listing their property as a business.

    The party also recommends allowing councils to control the spread of second homes and short-term lets by making them subject to planning and a consent for change of use, as well as giving councils compulsory purchase powers to bring empty homes and vacant land into use.

    Andy Wightman

    Andy Wightman MSP said: “People are crying out for affordable housing, yet we have a total of over 100,000 empty and under-used second homes across the country. It’s incredulous that the proportion of empty homes is rising and astonishing that not all councils have empty homes officers to bring properties into use.

    “The Scottish Government has long overlooked the issue of empty homes and there’s a risk that its response will be too little too late. Second homes remain a blight in many communities and inflating house prices beyond the reach of local people.

    “The Scottish Greens’ proposed overhaul of legislation would deliver the fresh energy needed to tackle Scotland’s housing crisis.”

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