Bringing empty homes back into use: audit of privately owned empty homes

An independent audit of long-term empty homes policy and interventions in Scotland.

1. Introduction and research aims

Background and context

The Scottish Government, on behalf of Scottish Ministers, appointed Indigo House Group Ltd (Indigo House) in association with IBP Strategy and Research Ltd to undertake an independent audit of its long-term empty homes policy and interventions. The findings of this audit will help inform how commitments on empty homes within the Housing to 2040 Strategy[1] can best be met.

Tackling empty homes remains a priority for the Scottish Government. It sees empty properties as part of the solution to meet housing demand and the Scottish Government wants to see all homes occupied and none left empty without good reason.

This audit has been undertaken in the context of the former Scottish Local Government and Communities Committee inquiry[2] into empty homes in Scotland, undertaken in 2019 which considered:

  • The extent of, and reasons for, empty homes in Scotland;
  • How effective existing legislation and policy was at addressing the problem of empty homes; and
  • What more could be done to prevent homes remaining empty and to encourage owners to bring them back into use.

Subsequently, the Housing to 2040 Strategy published in 2021, set out the Scottish Government’s policy to help ensure that empty homes are maintained, improved and put to the best possible use whilst helping to revitalise our rural and island communities and our town centres. Within the Strategy there are commitments to:

  • work with local authorities to audit empty homes and determine those that should be brought back into use;
  • support the work of the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership and continue to roll out the approach across Scotland;
  • give councils the powers they need to regulate and charge owners appropriately for homes lying empty and ensure they have the mechanisms to bring them back into productive use;
  • create a support package for homeowners in trouble to help them stay in their home, if that is right for them, and to prevent homes falling into disrepair or becoming empty in the first place; and
  • establish a new fund for local authorities to apply to use in order to bring empty homes and potential empty homes back into residential use and convert suitable empty commercial properties in town centres.

Research aims and questions

The aims of this audit are to:

  • Set out the scale of the problem in Scotland (including how this compares to other UK nations) and the factors that lead to homes becoming empty for longer than 6 months.
  • Identify the learning from the use of various interventions and powers across Scotland to bring long-term empty homes back into use – this includes providing value for money assessments to advise how we can continue to best support delivery of the SEHP model and improve data collection and dissemination.
  • Build on the evidence gathered by SG analysts to review UK and other relevant approaches to tackling empty homes and to identify whether any of these might be used to enhance the effectiveness of tackling/ preventing empty homes in Scotland, including the appropriateness across different demographics (urban, rural, islands).

The Scottish Government has set specific research questions to be answered through the audit:

  • What is the current picture in Scotland with regards to empty homes, taking into account, the scale, characteristics and impact of empty homes?
  • What are some of the key barriers to, and opportunities for, bringing empty homes back into use in this context?
  • How successful have existing approaches and interventions been in achieving their aims in relation to empty homes in Scotland?
  • How could these approaches and interventions be improved going forward and are there further actions that could be taken? For example, how could the Empty Homes Partnership continue to evolve its model to support local authorities, including how it can improve its data collection and dissemination, to increase the rate of empty homes brought back into use?

In setting the brief for this work, the Scottish Government anticipated that compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) and compulsory sales orders (CSOs) may be mentioned by stakeholders when asked about their experience of using existing interventions or views on future interventions. The Scottish Government has committed to reform and modernise compulsory purchase legislation in Scotland to make the system fairer, clearer and faster for all parties. As a first step it will appoint an expert advisory panel in 2023-24 to help inform the development of options for reform. Therefore, while stakeholder views on the effectiveness of CPOs and potential for CSOs in the empty homes context is included in this report, recommendations on the future of such powers are out with the scope of this research.

Structure of the report

The report is set out as follows:

  • Chapter 2 – Describes the methodology used for the audit, including limitations in the research.
  • Chapter 3 – Sets out the current picture of empty homes in Scotland, including the characteristics of long-term empty homes, and provides comparisons across UK nations, and internationally. This section includes a discussion on the current data challenges relating to empty homes in Scotland.
  • Chapter 4 – Considers the impact of empty homes, progress on bringing empty homes back into use, and the key barriers for bringing more empty homes back into use in Scotland.
  • Chapter 5 – Analyses the current approaches and interventions used in Scotland to bring empty homes back into uses, and the effectiveness.
  • Chapter 6 – Examines the value for money of the various approaches and interventions.
  • Chapter 7 – Outlines areas for improvement based on stakeholder opinion. This chapter also draws on evidence on different approaches used elsewhere, providing wider learning through evidence review and case studies.
  • Chapter 8 – Concludes from all the evidence gathered, providing independent recommendations on how existing approaches can be improved, and what other actions could be taken to bring more empty homes back into use, including how to improve data collection and dissemination.



Back to top