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.

7. Areas for improvement and learning from alternative approaches

Potential areas for improvement have been established through surveys and interviews with local authorities, wider stakeholders and empty homeowners. Wider evidence also provides learning on innovation in Scotland and alternative approaches used in other countries to bring empty homes back into use.

Stakeholder opinion on areas for improvement

Local authority and wider stakeholder opinion on areas for improvement

When local authorities were asked about potential areas for improvement in bringing empty homes back into use, the three issues deemed as the most important interventions were the provision of enhanced financial support to owners, followed by enhanced enforcement action against owners and increased EHOs resources. One in three respondents (9 local authorities) highlighted in open text responses the scope for Compulsory Sales Orders to help bring empty homes back into use. Some believed this would address the issues of risk inherent in Compulsory Purchase Orders.

Figure 16: Future interventions needed (average score)
A horizontal bar chart showing future interventions needed to bring empty homes back into use. The factors are scored from 1 = not an issue to 5 = a significant issue. The chart presents the average score for each of the five factors, with financial support receiving the highest average score and improved engagement from external partners scoring the lowest.

Source: LA survey (base=28) Score 1=Not an issue, 5=A significant issue

In-depth interviews, combined with open comments in the survey provides further insight to the perceived areas for improvement. The need for improvement in data collection was raised as a key issue and has been outlined in Chapter 2. The other three most common key themes raised were around enforcement, funding and resources including for energy efficiency.

Most respondents stressed the lack of relevant and effective powers in current legislation to tackle empty homes and argued that a wider set of enforcement tools were required, which were swift and effective. These widespread views are illustrated through two comments:

“We need to have legislation to say if you don’t engage after x amount of time and prove what is happening, then we can enforce work ourself.” (Urban/rural local authority)

“The lack of enforcement powers within the local authority is an issue. Compulsory Purchase Orders are used as a last resort but without financial resources this remains extremely difficult. We need to continue to lobby for Compulsory Sale Orders.” (Local authority survey respondent).

It was also noted by some local authority participants that there may be scope to extend the use of works and amenity notices, but difficulties using such notices were cited around enforcement and the lack of resources to do so, and/or the risk of not being able to recoup funding from owners and therefore acting as a disincentive for councils to use this approach.

A strong, and common theme (both in comments in the survey and the qualitative interviews) was criticism of the effectiveness of CPOs, and the requirement of holding funding for compensation by the local authority being a key barrier for using CPOs. This was raised across the board but was emphasised by higher value market local authorities where holding compensation of an average of £150,000 - £200,000 per property for up to 6 years was argued as unfeasible. One participant proposed that Scottish Government provide funding for councils if it wished to see the use of CPOs more widely.

Most local authority participants and some wider stakeholders recommended the introduction Compulsory Sales Orders (CSOs) as an additional enforcement option and it was considered this should be a priority for Scottish Government. In the words of one participant ‘we need SG to pull it out of the hat because it’s a real tool’. Hence:

“The defining aspect for us with CSO compared to CPO is that for us to move forward with CPO, we have to identify budgets. And right now with council’s struggling, you know we basically have to find budgets for every CPO we do moving forward. We won't need to do that for CSOs and that's where that would be a very helpful tool for empty home services” (City local authority).

It was claimed CSOs would help to increase the number of homes that could be brought back into use. As well as removing the need for the council to purchase the property and identify a follow-on buyer quickly, it would also open up the sale of neglected and abandoned properties to the wider market, clearing the way for buildings to be redeveloped and returned to active use. Many participants (both local authorities and wider stakeholders) were of the view that, with the right safeguards in place, CSOs and compulsory rental order powers (CROs), also referred to by stakeholders as the Empty Dwelling Management Orders modelled on provisions that have been trialled elsewhere in Europe, could both be additional enforcement tools that local authorities across the country could use to increase housing stock.

While the majority of participants saw the value in the CSO route, there was also caution raised with one local authority stating on the prospect of CSOs “There’s a long way to go. The devil will be in the detail’ and another stakeholder stated there would be concerns about removing property rights from owners, and with less control over the price paid or the prospective purchaser: ‘I think a lot of people think that the bar is lower [about CSOs compared to CPOs], and actually I see it as being much higher’.

The need for more resources to increase the capacity of EHOs was also a strong theme from most consultees. It was clear from interviews that those local authorities with no, or relatively low level of empty homes officer resources were at a disadvantage from others who had a dedicated and larger empty homes team: the former were more focused on reactive work, the latter were more able to incorporate strategic work in their roles. There were some calls from local authorities to ring fence funds from council tax revenue to focus on empty homes, although others stated that there is already guidance around the use of certain tax funds generated from long-term empty and second homes to be used for affordable housing purposes, and that Councils do have, and it was argued should use this discretion for more of these funds to be directed to empty homes activity by local authorities.[105]

“Empty Homes Officer resource is fundamental to success of any empty homes work. Capacity of the current resource impact on our ability to deliver active engagement, regular owner contact, and scheme development. Additional resources would strengthen our work and likely lead to improved outcomes. Resource capacity and complexity around enforcement action has impacted on our ability to consider this. Again, enhanced community action cannot be considered due to the internal resource available.” (Local authority survey respondent)

Other common views related to increasing funding for local authority acquisitions/buy-backs of empty homes from the open market. One stakeholder pointed out that more specific guidance was planned to encourage councils to acquire more through the Affordable Housing Supply Programme. Another consultee mentioned that Land and Building Transaction Tax relief on local authority purchases would also help, in the same way as occurs for RSLs.

In line with the survey responses, many local authorities and wider stakeholders argued for more funding as financial incentives for owners including grants, as illustrated by one stakeholder:

“I think the power of grants is really, really underestimated here…this concept if you give an owner a grant it is a private benefit…If the end goal is getting an empty home, turning it into a home for somebody that needs it and the shortfall is £10K or £15K it is short-sighted to…say it has to be a loan, because the loans are not working… The government needs to understand the no brainer a win-win it would be for them in terms of housing supply. But they have to get over this ideological ‘giving money away to private owners’ thing.” (Wider stakeholder)

Several participants also raised the difficulties relating to Scottish Government/ Home Energy Scotland funding sources for energy efficiency works not being available for empty homes as these funding sources generally require that the property is inhabited. It was suggested that this is counter to empty homes policies, and to the recently increased energy efficiency requirements in the private rented sector, and argued that these funds should be amended to cover renovation of empty homes.

Generally, what was clear from the interviews was that participants wanted a full range of tools at their disposal. One argued that ‘the more tools you have, the more people you can reach’ and another stated that “the proactive work [around mailing and communication with owners] works to a point, but without other tools, the properties that are stuck remain stuck’, and at the same time noting that an individualised approach was needed:

“it's difficult because all cases are different. But within a city, there's a high expectation from the politicians that we will be proactive to tackle issues. So, we've got to come up with more and more inventive solutions.” (City local authority)

Finally, there was a strong sense from many of the participants (from local authorities and wider stakeholders) about the need for urgency around this issue:

“We need more urgency to help support local authorities to transform empty homes and make them habitable. We've got a housing crisis in Scotland. We've got extraordinary challenges and we need more properties…We have to seize the opportunity to get them back online. (Wider stakeholder)

Homeowner opinion on areas for improvement

Empty homeowner respondents were shown a list of potential improvements and asked about the extent to which each would have an impact on bringing long-term empty homes back into use, in their opinion. Respondents were asked to answer on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 was “no impact and 5 was “a significant impact”. These results are detailed in the table below. For each element, the distribution of responses and the mean rating for each on the scale of 1 to 5 is shown.

Table 9: Homeowners’ rating of potential improvements where 1 is no impact and 5 is a significant impact
Improvement Mean 1 2 3 4 5 Base
Enhanced financial support to owners to bring long-term empty homes back into use 4.12 13% 3% 7% 14% 63% 180
More support from other Local Authority services (not the Empty Homes Officer) 3.4 20% 7% 21% 15% 36% 174
More support from the Local Authority Empty Homes Officer 3.3 21% 7% 25% 14% 32% 174
Enhanced support from local community groups such as community action groups, community councils and development trusts, to help bring long-term empty homes back into use 2.68 35% 12% 23% 10% 20% 171
Enhanced enforcement action against owners 2.25 46% 17% 16% 6% 14% 170
Other 3.19 37% - 15% 3% 45% 75

Source: Empty homeowners survey

The most common element that respondents considered would have an impact on bringing empty homes back into use was enhanced financial support to owners (mean rating of 4.12 on the 1-5 scale and with 77% giving a rating of 4 or 5, including 63% that gave the highest rating of 5, being a significant impact).

Two aspects of local authority support were also considered to be important by a significant proportion of respondents. This included support from Empty Homes Officers (mean rating of 3.3, with 46% giving a rating of 4 or 5) and support from other local authority services (mean rating of 3.4, with 51% giving a rating of 4 or 5).

Both enhanced support from local community groups (mean rating 2.68, 30% giving a rating of 4 or 5) and enhanced enforcement action against owners (mean rating 2.25, 20% giving a rating of 4 or 5) were less likely to be considered to have an impact in terms of bringing long-term empty homes back into use.

Respondents suggested a number of “other” options for which they provided a rating in response to this question. These “other” responses from homeowner survey respondents were very diverse and generally took the form of wider contextual comments relating to the homeowner’s situation as illustrated below:

“A tailored approach based on the individual case.”

“Bringing pressure on the other owners and gradually cutting off their excuses for not doing anything.”

“Allowance and consideration for properties “frozen” due to divorce. Perhaps a mutually beneficial initiative can be implemented.”

“Landlords need to stop being demonised. Many of us are renting our family homes for a temporary time and we need to gain access - with suitable and legal notice periods being given to the tenants.”

Respondents were then asked to comment on potential improvements more generally that would help them bring more long-term empty home into use. These reflected a range of topics with the main themes summarised as:

  • financial support
  • a more attractive regulatory environment for landlords
  • other specific suggestions

A selection of illustrative comments from the homeowner survey respondents are provided below relating to these themes.

Financial support

“The provision of grants is instrumental in persuading owners in shared property to commit to repairs.”

“Financial support. If there was a scheme whereby you get financial support by offering your property for a set period of time to the council or controlled rent then I believe it would help all parties.”

“Extend the council tax exemption from 6 months to at least 12.”

“Money is the only barrier. Enforcement Orders and red tape / bureaucracy are a waste of time.”

A more attractive regulatory environment for landlords

“Reduce the legislative and administrative hoops that landlords need to negotiate, recognise that significant risk is taken by landlords (or owner/occupiers) who take derelict properties into their portfolio with intent to increasing available housing stocks.”

“Work with landlords and understand that we are not all big businesses. We are ordinary families who see that there is a need in society for housing and want to help but now feel we are being forced out of the rental arena.”

“Regulatory changes on rentals will shrink rental market to near nothing in the private rented sector.”

Other specific suggestions

“Funding for social housing providers e.g. housing associations to re-purchase properties.”

“Better support (or less protections/barriers) to enable removal of really bad tenants in a timely manner.”

“Allowing use of empty properties for HMOs / Short Term Lets would bring more properties back into use rather than being left empty.”

All homeowners interviewed felt more could be done within local authorities to address the problem of empty homes within their communities. For example, the one owner who participated in the matchmaker scheme suggested that it could be expanded to include more vulnerable groups needing housing, such as refugees or homeless persons. She explained that although she ‘didn’t want to let it out for free’ she understood that her particular property was not ‘a cash cow’. She expressed support for a scheme like Private Sector Leasing where the local authority could rent properties for a period of five years, with a view to sub-letting them to homeless tenants. Another respondent with a crofting tenure suggested that the local authority could become partners with local industry to match empty homes to key workers. She also emphasised that greater financial assistance was needed for owners to fully support the Scottish Government’s ambition of property conservation and enhanced energy efficiency. Another owner who received extensive support from an EHO to bring her property back into use contemplated how viable it would be to offer the same level of intensive support to other owners in a large urban local authority (where there was greater volume) and wondered whether it made more sense to devote those same resources to direct capital investment instead.

A few owners interviewed were familiar with local authority buy back schemes and the use of Compulsory Purchase Orders. These owners had mixed views on the extent to which local authorities should purchase empty homes. One owner in an urban area explained that she felt that CPOs should be limited to cases where there was no other option:

“From a professional point of view, I think all the tools should be available to councils to get a property back into use, but from a personal point of view as someone who had owned an empty property, I wouldn’t want to be plunged into negative equity”. (Empty homeowner)

Finally, a few owners explained there was a need for parity within the council tax system – specifically in how long-term empty homes were subject to 200% council tax compared to 50% council tax for second homes. One respondent who held a crofting tenure explained that most of the so called second homes in the area were in practice long-term empty homes in her community, and there was an incentive for owners to have them classified as second homes due to the lower council tax rate. Another owner suggested that second homes should be treated as a different category of use, pointing to a Welsh example where second homes were classed the same as short term lets (STLs) with respect to planning legislation. She explained that owners knew how to avoid the council tax premium by changing the property to a different classification - either as a second home or having the property’s use change from residential to agricultural. She stressed that the problem of empty homes needed a planning solution with a recognition that vacant properties can have the same harmful impact on communities as STLs.

Learning from innovative and alternative approaches

The following sets out further evidence drawn from literature and interviews showing a range of alternative and innovative approaches from Scotland and other countries. These are categorised as homesteading approaches, community led and social enterprise led approaches, and enforcement.

Home-steading approaches

Home-steading models are those which adopt a self-help approach to the refurbishment of empty homes. These approaches may be useful in areas of depopulation and decline, including rural and remote communities in Scotland, but also provide potential for training and skills development for young people. Scottish Government/SEHP is working with HELM Training in Dundee[106] to develop a pilot project for a two-year Empty Homes Officer post to work with young people to bring empty homes back into use with them as the eventual tenants.

A case study from the US provides an example of how displaced peoples and immigrant populations can be housed whilst also contributing to self-help refurbishment of empty homes and the repopulation of struggling regions. An initiative in Cleveland, an area in significant economic and population decline, involved a non-profit group partnering with local firms, buying and refurbishing empty homes, providing training and placements with local employers. The properties were then rented at affordable rates to the displaced peoples and new immigrants involved in the work (Barth 2017[107]). This case study illustrates the value of harnessing the power of incoming groups to revitalise a local area, fostering empowerment, community integration and ultimately recovery from population loss through an empty homes initiative which links immigration planning with regeneration.

Aberdeenshire Council provides information and support for a Sweat Equity initiative[108], based on a ‘homesteading’ approach. This involves creating low/no rent long term lease agreements between owners of empty homes that cannot afford to refurbish and tenants who have skills to carry out repairs, taking on responsibility for bringing the property up to habitable standard in return for accommodation. Owners are able to retain their property by benefitting from the labour of tenants, whilst tenants benefit from low cost, secure long term housing. People with local connections to the area and requisite skills may otherwise struggle to stay in the community because of a shortage of suitable homes, whilst landowners are unable to bring empty dwellings in rural agricultural areas back into use.

Community-led approaches

There are numerous examples of good practice with partnership initiatives between local authorities, community action and third sector groups, RSLs and private developers. Partnership approaches are usually targeted not only to address the problem of empty homes, but to integrate empty homes work with approaches to address other policy priorities.

Community-led solutions can have an important role in delivering empty homes but as found in research on self-help housing in England (Mullins, Jones, & Teasdale, 2011[109]; Sacranie, 2015 in Mullins 2018) communities need capacity building and strong external partnership support and knowledge to help them navigate complex funding, procurement and delivery processes.

The South of Scotland Community Housing (SOSCH) have called for more provisions for urban community-led housing development[110]. They are recommending three steps to kickstart a new community-led urban housing sector.

1) Launch a pilot Urban Housing Fund. This should fund a range of models, including high street developments reusing existing assets, developments on vacant and derelict land, new build housing and multi-use developments. This pilot funding could sit alongside support from the Scottish Land Fund to acquire land or buildings.

2) Provide enhanced feasibility support. Recognising that urban areas of Scotland require a different type of housing to rural Scotland or urban England, the pioneers of urban community-led housing should be provided with enhanced feasibility support.

3) Work with the existing enablers to provide support and capture learning: South of Scotland Community Housing and Communities Housing Trust are already working with communities in remote small towns and have experience of urban housing through their international work.

The model outlined below would be applicable to small towns where there are long-term empty larger properties or commercial properties. South of Scotland Community Housing played a key co-ordination role, which is important where there is a complex funding arrangement, as well as project management and housing allocation. Multi-agency funding models offer the scope to tackle empty homes but need co-ordination. The Scottish Government’s delivery priorities for the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership project includes encouraging community organisations to bring empty properties back into use and is currently funding a two year SOSCH Community-led Housing Co-ordinator to develop community-led housing solutions to bring empty homes and buildings back into use as affordable housing, particularly in areas of high demand.

South of Scotland Community Housing supported The Eskdale Foundation’s renovation of the Langholm Old Police Station[111] throughout the five-year project period: including the Housing Needs and Demand Assessment, project management of the design and construction team, developing a comprehensive funding package, submitting grant applications, and managing housing allocations. The redevelopment of the property was overseen by John Gilbert Architects, leading on a wider professional design team, and delivered by Cubby Construction.

Funding for the Langholm Old Police Station project came from a wide range of stakeholders. In addition to the initial asset transfer, Dumfries and Galloway Council made a capital contribution with the Town Centre Living Fund, a ring-fenced second homes tax. The planning and delivery of the project has also been supported by funding from the Scottish Government’s Rural and Islands Housing Fund, Scottish Land Fund, South of Scotland Enterprise, Architectural Heritage Fund and local windfarm community benefit funds.

The Communities Housing Trust (CHT)[112] is developing an empty homes restoration model, with a derelict property bequeathed by National Trust Scotland (NTS). Craigloiste is a small derelict property in Inveralligin, Torridon on the north-west coast which was bequeathed to the NTS. With the stipulation it had to be for the benefit of the community, NTS brought CHT on board. CHT are looking at it as an opportunity to develop a new tenure model for empty and derelict homes in rural areas, in order to provide more homes, but also to attract or retain key trades, a growing issue communities are facing.

CHT will identify applicants with the skills to renovate the house, initially on a repairing lease, with the later ability to purchase at a discounted rate through the Rural Housing Burden [113]. Developing a replicable model for other remote rural and Island communities is key here.

Social enterprise models

The following social enterprise projects provide an example of bringing empty homes back into use at scale through partnerships, whilst addressing multiple policy priorities around workforce upskilling, energy efficiency and the climate crisis.

The social enterprise model has the scope to deliver progress on empty homes at scale. This is likely to be most useful in areas of high demand for affordable private renting. Although applied at scale in urban settings in the examples here, this model could be used in rural and remote areas as part of a broader local economic development strategy. The example of Homes for Good ‘Rent Ready’ model is also included in Chapter 5.

The Giroscope project[114], delivered with grant funding from Hull City Council generated from its ‘Right to Buy Replacement Programme Grant Fund’, has a component for refurbishment of empty housing. This provides 30% of the capital funding for Giroscope’s refurbishment projects, with the remainder secured through multi-agency funding appeals. Other key features of this project included its locally embedded and community-led nature, engagement with local residents and creating opportunities for training and work experience. The international significance of the Giroscope project was recognised with a joint win in the World Habitat Awards 2015–2016, illustrating the success of multi-agency funded partnerships and community engagement (Mullins 2018[115]).

Pilot research and case studies from the East Midlands, involved building a model for sustainable retrofitting empty homes. A Community Interest Company (CIC) (Ceranic et al 2017[116]) was developed, focusing on financing, procurement, supply chain and project management processes. The CIC made funding applications and secured nominal sum leases. The pilot demonstrated that sustainable refurbishment could be delivered at scale through subsequent leasing and rent recuperation with profit reinvested, with projections to refurbish 1,000 homes across a four year period. A training component in the model helped upskill local unemployed workers, addressing below average educational attainment; reduced demand for workers; and a skills mismatch in the local area.

Cii[117] is a not-for-profit CIC that combines skills development and learning with community regeneration. The project returns empty properties to the housing market in an environmentally friendly and energy-efficient manner. Cii purchase empty properties and after renovation, resell each property to fund the next property purchase. In July 2020, the Cii started to deliver the European-funded Community Wellbeing & Employment Pathway (CWEP). The CWEP supported disadvantaged individuals aged 25+ from Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil, Neath Port Talbot and Rhondda Cynon Taf to improve their health and wellbeing, develop new employability skills, map out clear employment pathways, achieve accredited qualifications and positively progress into job search, volunteering opportunities and full-time employment. More recently, projects have received funding from Pen Y Cymoedd Community Wind Farm Fund and Cii have engaged with the DWP Kickstarter programme, receiving staff support.

Cii provide a wide range of construction and trade services for domestic and commercial clients across the UK offering work tasters and placements for people from disadvantaged backgrounds, providing a stepping stone into sustainable and meaningful employment.

YMCA Glenrothes[118] has established a multi-agency funded partnership delivering a ten-year property refurbishment plan, working with young people to renovate small numbers of empty properties then letting these to people who have experienced homelessness.

Nordic approaches

Lessons from the Danish approach to empty properties in area of depopulation may be of relevance to areas of Scotland experiencing significant demographic change, or in low demand markets.

Research on housing challenges in the Nordic regions found that, in Denmark[119], the main challenge and national focus was the surplus of houses, and other buildings or facilities, in some rural areas due to the declining population. This results in low market prices, and in many cases in houses where the owners have left and there are therefore no registered inhabitants. Such houses, registered for permanent residence, are regarded as empty if no one is registered there with a permanent address. Their use for other purposes, such as leisure, is also restricted.

Some of these empty houses are being bought in order to make a profit for the provision of housing for very low-income families – often those receiving benefits. This in turn attracts people from other areas who have additional social needs.

Other houses are slowly dilapidated, and these create a general impression of decay in the local community. At present, the main focus regarding housing challenges in rural areas is on support for municipalities to buy up empty houses in the worst condition, so that they can be demolished.

Some municipalities allow houses registered for permanent residence to be sold with a so-called flex-residence permit, meaning that a house registered for such purposes can be employed for leisure use, and at a later stage can be re-registered for permanent residency again. The intention is to get these “flex-residents” to maintain their houses – and hopefully later decide to live there on a permanent basis.


As outlined above, there are widespread calls from Scottish local authorities and wider stakeholders to widen enforcement powers in Scotland through Compulsory Sales Orders (CSOs). The Scottish Government evidence review points to the use of enforced sales and Empty dwelling management orders (EDMOs) in England and Wales (Tanner 2013[120]; National Assembly for Wales 2019[121]) to allow the forced sale of private property, or to allow local authorities to take over the management of a property while ownership does not change. However, like CPOs, the literature highlights that these approaches also have their limitations with the main reasons being lack of resources, lack of knowledge or the absence of specialist legal support to implement these approaches. It concludes on the need for centralised resources and specialist legal services to enable the wider use of enforcement action.

In England and Wales enforced sales allow the sale of private property where there is a debt to the local authority against the property and where the present owner is unable or unwilling to deal with the property and/or is unable to repay the debt. Relevant debts mainly arise from local authorities undertaking work against statutory notices where the owner failed to undertake the work themselves. Similar to CPOs, enforced sales procedures also require investment of time and resources, particularly legal fees, and may involve upfront costs to make the property safe and secure prior to the requirement to take the property to auction to achieve market value, which is paid to the owner without full cost recovery of public funds (Tanner 2013[122]; National Assembly for Wales 2019[123]).

In England and Wales, EDMOs allow local authorities to take over management of empty properties for a period of up to seven years, while ownership does not change. Their main advantage is that they balance of the rights of property owners and the duty of local authorities to secure occupation of empty properties in the public interest (Wilson 2019[124]). EDMOs are considered best suited for properties requiring minor repairs, where the local authority can pay for initial repairs and refurbishment. Costs are then recouped through a leasing arrangement with the owner (Tanner 2013[125]). Local authorities finance property improvements, with the attendant financial risk, possibility of non-repayment, and risk that some types of cost outlay will be non-recoverable (National Assembly for Wales 2019).

In Wales, there is some evidence that EDMO powers are under-used given the scale of local empty homes, with only 43 authorisations recorded between 2006 and 2011. The main reasons were lack of resources, a lack of knowledge or the absence of specialist legal support (National Assembly for Wales 2019). In light of this, the Deputy First Minister for Wales has described EDMOs as ‘notoriously problematic’ and the South East Wales Empty Property Working Group suggested that enforced sale is their most commonly used tool rather than EDMOs or CPOs, because there are fewer ‘hurdles and risks’ (National Assembly for Wales 2019). EDMOs were envisaged as a last resort power, with the expectation that their introduction would persuade owners to bring properties back into use and encourage constructive dialogue with EHOs supporting owners to access the range of available options (Wilson 2019).

This suggests, that while alternatives to CPOs may be a useful addition to local authorities’ enforcement tool, there is a requirement for centralised and specialist resources (including legal services) to support local authorities using these powers.

Key findings summary

  • There is a widespread call from all stakeholders, including empty homeowner survey respondents and interviewees for increased financial incentives, including grants, for owners to bring properties back into use.
  • There is also demand across all stakeholders including homeowners for increased support and resources for local authorities to focus on empty homes, including more EHOs. Homeowners interviewed argued that more should be done to support them, with suggestions including private sector leasing schemes and local authority buy backs.
  • Most local authorities and wider stakeholders argued for more enforcement tools including compulsory sales orders, and a few could see the benefits in compulsory rental orders. One recent approach of ‘Rent Ready’ by Homes for Good is testing a loan for rent initiative. Empty homeowners survey respondents did not want to see more enforcement, although a few interviewees could see the benefits in enforcement action as a last resort.
  • Homeowners were also aware of the disparity between council tax premiums on second homes and long-term empty homes and argued that owners avoid the higher tax levels by classifying their property as a second home to get a more advantageous rate.
  • There are a range of innovative approaches illustrated that can be used to bring empty homes back into use, including those led by the community organisations and social enterprise companies. Key lessons from these approaches show the importance of co-ordination of complex funding packages which these organisations can help navigate, and the use of homesteading and other initiatives which include the additional benefits of training and skills development.
  • There are alternatives to CPOs – enforced sales and EDMOs, used in England and Wales which do not require the local authority to purchase the property, but rather force sale or rental of the property. However, like CPOs these are still resource intensive and require specialist legal advice, but they would not require the capital outlay required for CPOs which is often a barrier for local authorities to use these powers.



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