Over £110m worth of empty homes brought back into use in 12 months

An empty property in Alyth that had been unoccupied for over six years
An empty property in Alyth that had been unoccupied for over six years

The value of long-term private empty homes brought back into use across Scotland in the last year exceeded £110 million, according to a new report.

The annual report by the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership (SEHP), which is funded by the Scottish Government and facilitated by housing and homelessness charity Shelter Scotland, says that despite the good news that almost 700 private empty properties were identified and brought back into use in the last year alone, more work still needs to be done across the country to address the problem of long-term empty homes.

Among its recommendations, SEHP calls for legislation of a Compulsory Sale Order power for vacant and derelict land and properties. The power would allow local authorities to force owners of long-term empty homes or disused land who fail to engage in the process of bringing their property up to standard and back into use, to sell up on the open market.

There are currently around 34,000 long-term private empty homes across Scotland. Meanwhile, according to Shelter Scotland, 150,000 families and individuals are on the main waiting list for a home. Last year, over 36,000 homelessness applications were made by households in Scotland.

Kristen Hubert, Scottish Empty Homes Partnership National Manager, said: “In the last year real progress has been made to bring some of Scotland’s 34,000 empty homes back into use – including making use of almost £110m in wasted assets and the launch of a free, national empty homes helpline.

“Despite this progress, more must be done to address the problem of empty homes, especially in light of Scotland’s on-going housing crisis.

“More than half of local authorities tell us that the introduction of a Compulsory Sale Order would be very useful in enabling them to be more effective in bringing empty homes back into use. We look forward to working with the Scottish Government and other empty homes partners to ensure that empty homes continue to be part of the solution to Scotland’s housing crisis.”

The Compulsory Sale Order power involves the ability for local authorities to force a long-term empty property or piece of land on to the open market if it has not been used in three years and shows no prospect of reuse. According to the SEHP, change of ownership has repeatedly proven the key to bringing empty properties back into use. The SEHP report claims the power is one which councils ‘can realistically use… and would be invaluable in tackling some of the worst problem empty homes.

In its election manifesto the SNP stated that they would legislate for compulsory purchase in certain circumstances including wilful neglect and persistent bad land management.

Housing Minister Kevin Stewart, said: “The Scottish Government is pleased to support the work of the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership and delighted this is delivering real results on the ground. These impressive results demonstrate the hard work of the Partnership and the network of empty homes officers to ensure as many empty homes are brought back into use as possible.

“This Government is committed to bringing forward provisions for Compulsory Sales Orders as part of the on-going programme of land reform measures. However, more work is needed to ensure any powers brought forward are effective in tackling the impact of abandoned buildings, particularly those that blight town centres and neighbourhoods, as well as adequately protecting the rights of owners.”

Additional recommendations in the report include:

  • Allocation of mainstream funding for a local Empty Homes Officer in all of Scotland’s Local Authorities - preferably on permanent contracts. Currently 17 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities employ at least one empty homes officer.
  • A diversification of financial incentive schemes offered by Scottish Government and Local Authorities to include more types of empty homes for more types of end uses including the introduction of a £10 million (3-year) Empty Homes Regeneration Loan Fund, a £5m (3-year) Scottish Empty Homes Community Grants Programme, a £3m (3-year) Empty Homes Feasibility Fund and the continued support for town centre empty homes projects.
  • Within the last year, the SEHP set up a free national empty homes helpline to make it easier for people to report empty homes in their area, and for owners to receive help to bring homes back into use.

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