More than 1,150 empty homes brought back into use over last year
Empty homes officers throughout Scotland helped to bring more than 1,150 empty properties back into use last year, almost 70% of which had been empty for two years or longer.
A new report published by the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership shows how the number of properties brought back into use was 35% higher than in 2020/21 when renovation work was put on hold, rental properties stood vacant, people put off house moves and private sector landlords held back on further investment in the property market. This suggests that many of the homes that became or remained long term empty due to the pandemic have now been returned to use.
However, the figures are still 18% lower than they were in the year prior to the pandemic, as the long-term impacts of COVID, coupled with a rise in the cost of materials, shortages in supplies and the lack of availability of local tradespeople, continue to impact the number of homes that can be brought back to use.
Shaheena Din, national project manager at Scottish Empty Homes Partnership, said: “We are delighted about the boost in the number of empty homes the Empty Homes Officer network has helped bring back into use in the past year, which brings us closer to pre-pandemic levels. With this year’s figures, it now means that Empty Homes Officers have now helped to bring over 7,700 homes back in to use since the partnership began.
“The longer homes remain empty the harder it becomes to bring them back into use. 2 and 5 years empty are particular milestones after which work to bring a home back to use becomes both more complex and costly. The role EHOs have to play in unlocking these properties is clearly demonstrated by the almost 400 homes that have been brought back to use after being empty for between 2 and 5 years being returned to use, and more than 150 homes that had been empty for more than five years.”
The Scottish Empty Homes Partnership is funded by the Scottish Government and hosted by Shelter Scotland. It was established in 2010 to help tackle the housing crisis by encouraging organisations and individuals to bring private sector long-term empty homes back into use where possible as social and affordable homes to help reduce housing need.
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Figures published by the Scottish Government in December showed that the number of homes empty for six months or longer had fallen by 7.5% from 47,333 in 2020 to 43,766. However, this was still 6.5% higher than the 40,963 long term empty homes in 2019.
24 Scottish councils report having an empty homes service. Since last year there have been 2 new empty homes officers appointed and a further 2 councils restarting an empty homes service by appointing a new officer. However, several local authorities have advised that since the pandemic, empty homes work has been deprioritised, or in one council, completely stopped.
The report highlights limitations faced by councils when owners of empty homes are unwilling to return their home to use or where owners cannot be traced. As well as encouraging councils to use the Compulsory Purchase Order powers which already exist, the report also repeats calls by empty homes officers and local authorities across the country for further powers, to be introduced to prevent homes from being left to deteriorate indefinitely at a time when Scotland desperately needs more homes.
The Scottish Empty Homes Partnership said it would like to see the Scottish Government working with local authorities as they take forward the planned modernisation of the compulsory purchase system and consider if further powers might be needed to help manage existing housing stock, including empty homes.
Ms Din added: “We remain committed to realising our ambition to see empty homes services in every local authority in Scotland and will continue to work with and support all Local Authorities to ensure that, despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, each Local Authority prioritises bringing suitable empty homes back into use.
“We want all councils to consider empty homes work in the round and to have an integrated empty homes strategy that aligns with their strategic housing investment plan and local housing strategy. We are continuing our work with stakeholders, including the government, to explore opportunities, to modernise the current system of compulsory purchase and any complimentary powers, that would enable councils to tackle the most challenging empty homes cases.”
Housing secretary Shona Robison MSP said: “We want everyone to have a warm safe home that meets their needs and we know good housing can support health, wellbeing, life chances and job prospects.
“That is why one of our Housing to 2040 priorities is to make best use of existing stock, including empty homes, and I’d like to thank empty homes officers for their hard work and dedication in putting this into action.
“We’re committed to supporting the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership as it rolls out its work across Scotland. We’d like all local authorities to use this approach as part of their housing plans, so even more empty properties can be used as cherished homes once more.”