Review of the Private Rented Sector: Volume 4: Bringing Private Sector empty houses into use

A review of initiatives to address the problem of empty houses drawn from case studies across the UK.




Affordable Housing Development Company

Reasons for selection: A commercial approach across a wide area.

A commercial company purchasing blocks of housing in Pathfinder areas (areas in the North of England where there are extensive numbers of older private sector homes, mainly in terrace housing). Properties are transferred into AHDC's ownership at zero or nominal value, thus making it economically feasible for AHDC to refurbish them commercially, at their own risk, as well as providing an asset base against which AHDC is able to raise the additional development finance required to regenerate the housing. The company refurbishes these houses and sees profit from the overall uplift in property values from treating a whole area. At the same time the local authority uses its resources to improve the surrounding environment, streetscape etc. Where there is a surplus of sales receipts over redevelopment costs, any surplus is shared with the public body involved.

No individual contact was obtained. Its website is

Arun District Council

Reasons for selection: The demonstration of a very co-operative approach to owners within a rural context.

A small rural authority in England taking a fresh approach to involving the owners of empty properties. The Council is particularly careful in its written approach to owners to achieve co-operation rather than to antagonise or threaten owners.

Richard Cook

Empty Homes Officer

Arun District Council

Tel: 01903 737692

Cairngorm National Park Authority

Reasons for selection: A campaign to develop empty homes using Rural Empty Property Grants in an area of high housing pressure.

The Cairngorm National Park is Britain's largest National Park. It has social and economic development aims alongside the aims of conservation, understanding and enjoyment of the countryside. CNPA , jointly with the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association ( SRPBA) undertook a survey of empty homes in its area, with a view to redeveloping these through the use of Rural Empty Property Grants

Fiona Munro

Cairngorms National Park Authority

Tel: 01479 870540


Reasons for selection: A commercial approach tried internationally.

A commercial company that offers "property guardian" services to property owners. This company has offices in London, Ireland, Birmingham and a number of EC countries. Owners pay Camelot a weekly fee of (currently) £25 per week for a house or £250 per week for 100,000 sq ft office/hospital. Camelot then places "live-in guardians" (key workers) who occupy the premises for the time they are vacant. These guardians also pay a "fee" to Camelot. This fee is set at between £25 and £60 per week but guardians are also required to pay a placement fee of £50, purchase a fire safety pack for £60 and provide a £400 returnable deposit. Utility bills are included in the fee. Camelot argues that its "Guardian Licence" is a legally binding and watertight temporary occupation license between Camelot and the guardian however there are concerns that such a licence could constitute a tenancy in Scotland with appropriate protection from eviction for the tenant.

John Mills


Camelot UK

Tel: 0700-2263568

City of Edinburgh Council

Reasons for selection: Use of data to investigate empty homes in a Scottish urban area of high housing demand.

The City of Edinburgh Council has a dynamic housing market and the largest private rented sector in Scotland. It has invested resources to work with private landlords to enable them to bring their properties into use. There is very high demand for housing in the city and an Empty Homes Strategy is being prepared. Official concern about empty private homes arises largely due to the exceptionally high demand for housing in the city rather than because of any blight caused by concentrations of empty properties.

Phil Watt

Edinburgh City Council

Tel: 0131 529 2179

East Ayrshire Council

Reasons for selection: One of the few Scottish Authorities to have a specific empty homes strategy.

An area comprising rural land and small towns, some parts of the area are experiencing increasing demand through the extension of the M77 whilst others are suffering continuing decline. This was one of the few authorities in Scotland to have set out an Empty Homes Strategy and to have made systematic contact with owners.

Karen Walker

East Ayrshire Council

Tel: 01563 578180

Empty Homes Partnership (Devon)

Reasons for selection: A comprehensive partnership approach in a mainly rural area of high housing demand

See Annex 2 for full case study description.

Sue Haigh

Exeter City Council

Tel: 0845 111 0277

Grampian Housing Association

Reasons for selection: An RSL with a long experience of developing lead tenancies.

Grampian HA in the north-east of Scotland has sponsored a number of Lead Tenancy Schemes since the scheme was first set up in 1994.

Mike Allan

Grampian HA

Tel: 01224 423032


Reasons for selection: A social enterprise and employment based approach to dealing with empty homes.

Giroscope operates in the West Hull area, one of the more deprived areas of the city consisting of Victorian and Edwardian terrace houses and with problems caused by a number of abandoned properties. In recent years, the area has suffered from Buy-to-Let landlords moving in carrying out unsympathetic and low quality refurbishments. Giroscope has built a portfolio of 25 houses (30 units of accommodation) for near-affordable rent over a period of just over 20 years. Conventional borrowing over a 10 year period is used and refurbishment costs kept low in order to make developments viable. It does not pay itself high wages and has built up a considerable experience of renovating these particular properties such that they do not need to over-specify refurbishments and are able to commission repairs for under £200 that might cost the local authority £700-£800.

Martin Newman


Tel: 01482 576374

Highland Council

Reasons for selection: Use of data in an authority working in remote rural areas.

Highland Council has tried to bring empty homes back into use but has come across a number of difficulties that have meant that it has only been able to bring 4 properties back into use over the past 3 years. Many empty properties are in remote rural locations and in poor condition, hard to bring back into use.

Sheila McKandie

Finance Dept

Highland Council

Tel: 01463 702411

Hilary Parkey

Housing and Property Services

Highland Council

Tel: 01292 612921

Highland Small Communities Housing Trust

Reasons for selection: An alternative approach to housing provision in remote rural areas that has brought a small number of empty homes into use for key worker housing.

The HSCHT is a Scottish Charity and company limited by guarantee set up by a broad partnership of interests in the Highlands to help its smaller communities get the best results possible from the housing system - predominantly by land-banking but also by, occasionally, buying houses. One of the purposes of HSCHT not being a RSL is that it is free and able to adopt a more flexible approach to deciding who to allocate a house to in order to meet local community needs. A disadvantage however is that the Trust is not able to obtain HAG and, while the Trust charges an affordable (Council/ HA equivalent) rent, filling the capital funding development gap presents a considerable challenge. The HSCHT has managed to buy four empty houses in small villages to let to key workers using grant aid from Highlands & Island Enterprise and financial support from an employer. The Trust also borrows some capital which it services and repays from the rental income received. Though the Trust has occasionally experienced longer than usual void periods it has found sufficient ongoing demand to fully justify the approach. The biggest problem the Trust has encountered with replicating the approach in other communities is the lack of public sector grant availability. The use of REPG has been considered and rejected because it leaves too big a capital funding gap.

Tom Hainey

Chief Executive


Tel: 01463 233548

Islington Council

Reasons for selection: Selected for a number of reasons including, being positive about CPOs; showing good inter-departmental approach; use of compulsory powers; use of publicity; and being part of North London consortium.

See Annex 2 for full case study description.

Ian Tagg

Tel: 0207 527 6078

Inverclyde Council

Reasons for selection: A Scottish authority dealing with empty homes in an area of urban decline.

Inverclyde Council is dealing with an issue of urban decline in an area containing 430 flats in five tenement blocks with flat roofs, over 50% of which are void at present. The blocks are wholly in the private sector with a mix of owner-occupation and a long-established tradition of private renting. Following extensive consultation with community representatives, the Council has had preliminary discussions with the Scottish Government on designating a Housing Renewal Area and further guidance is now awaited.

William Rice

Inverclyde Council

Tel: 01475 712070

Kent County Council

Reasons for selection: Seen by the Empty Homes Agency as one of most important initiatives in England, strategy-based and exemplifying the effectiveness of a partnership approach across local authorities.

  • See Annex 2 for full case study description.

Steve Grimshaw; Project Manager, Kent County Council; Tel: 0162 222 1906;

Andrew Lavender

CPC Ltd Consultant

Tel: 07867.987550

London Borough of Hounslow:

Reasons for selection: An urban council with no empty home strategy and considers it does not have a significant problem with empty homes but is bringing about 50 empty homes back into use every year.

See Annex 2 for full case study description.

Keith Dickens

LB Hounslow

Tel: 0208 583 4657

Manchester City Council

Reasons for selection: A council with a strong and focussed approach to dealing with empty homes in an area of urban decline.

See Annex 2 for full case study description.

Dave Stott,

Manchester City Council

Tel: 0161 234 4862

National Association of Empty Property Practitioners

Reasons for selection: Reflected a networking approach to support empty homes practitioners across England.

See Annex 2 for full case study description.

Dave Gibbens

Tel: 02392 265 869

National Empty Homes Agency

Reasons for selection: A strong well funded national organisation which supports local authorities and campaigns on empty homes issues.

See Annex 2 for full case study description.

Henry Oliver

Tel: 020 7022 1869

Newcastle City Council

  • Reasons for selection: Selected for its regeneration focus and inter-departmental approach. Not used EDMOs but considering CPOs.
  • See Annex 2 for full case study description.

Claire McMullen (Project Manager)

Tel : 0191 273 6155

Northern Ireland Housing Executive -Town Centre Living Initiative

Reasons for selection: Demonstrating the development of homes over the shop in a variety of small towns and suburban centres within a context of urban regeneration to counteract a sectarian history.

The NIHE currently runs 23 Town Centre Living Initiative Schemes ( TCLIs) in conjunction with local authorities. This is an example of vacant properties being dealt with as part of wider area initiatives. The project has been most successful in smaller towns and least successful with larger chain stores in major city centres. Grant are available of up to £25,000 towards a conversion project comprising a single unit and £30,000 for a project comprising 2 or more units ( HMO), up to maximum of 75% of eligible costs. The property must be let for at least 5 years following receipt of the grant so the maximum grant per unit per annum would be £5,000. Sometimes work has been undertaken in conjunction with Heritage Lottery Townscape Heritage Initiative ( THI) schemes. Leaflets are produced showing how the shop owner can also obtain 100% capital allowances (under the Finance Act 2001) giving tax relief on capital expenditure.

David Brown


Tel 02890 318362 David.Brown@NIHE.GOV.UK

North London Sub Region Working Party on Empty Homes

  • Reasons for selection: Selected as a consortium approach
  • See Annex 2 for full case study description.

Lesley Mallett

North London Empty Properties

Tel: 0208 359 7015


  • Reasons for selection: Award winning 5 year empty homes strategy. Living Over the Shops initiatives In the Devonport Urban Village re-development project. A good illustration of partnership working.

Plymouth has a team of 3 including a senior development officer whose main role is to deal with Living Over the Shop Initiative ( LOTS) and a development officer who deals with the PSL scheme. In 2005/06, they aimed to deliver 85 units of housing brought back into use. They have an empty homes leasing scheme which gives loans, if required, to bring a house up to standard and then provision of a guaranteed rental for 2- 3 years with a partnership agreement requiring the owner to continue rental at a rent linked to the local housing allowance for a further 5 years. The loan cost is recovered from the rent. Plymouth City Council used a mix of funding including local authority Empty Property Conversion Grant ( EPCG), Housing Corporation funds (Temporary Social Housing Grant), funding from the Devonport Regeneration Company and investment from the owner. The Council obtained full nomination rights on the flats for the following 10 years and a local Housing Association acquired the lease and managed the flats.

Chris Duggan.

Shelter Cymru: Empty Homes Project

Reasons for selection: A possible model for an Empty Homes Project in Scotland.

Shelter Cymru received 2 years funding from the Welsh Assembly Government to start an Empty Homes Project with the Empty Homes Agency ( EHA) in England as a partner in the project. Overall costs are £43,513 in 2008-09 and £49,434 in 2009-10. The overall purpose of the project is to support (free of charge) local authorities in their efforts to make more effective use of privately owned empty homes to meet housing need by providing advice, consultancy, training, good practice guidance and the development of a number of regional forums. The first stage of the project includes gathering data on empty properties in Wales and undertaking a brief survey of local authority activity. From October 2008 the project started to focus on advice and consultancy work. In cooperation with the Assembly Government the project will also contribute to producing a good practice guide on making use of empty homes.

Sue Lee,

Empty Homes Officer Telephone: 01745 357001

South Oxfordshire District Council

Reasons for selection: Good example of thinly resourced council blazing a trail; first final EDMO in England.

See Annex 2 for full case study description.

Elicia Bolam

Private Sector Housing Officer

Tel: 01491 823 238

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