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.


5.1 This chapter highlights the issue of setting clear objectives for empty homes work that guide priorities and setting of targets, not just in terms of numbers but in terms of where action should be directed.


5.2 While the focus of this research was to examine how the re-use of empty private homes could contribute to meeting housing needs, it was clear from a number of the case studies, particularly from England, that other valid objectives directed the interventions of local authorities.

5.3 For example, Plymouth City Council's empty homes objectives addressed improving the built environment and supporting area regeneration as well as providing affordable housing. For Manchester City Council (see Annex 2), critical properties were those which were deemed to have the most negative amenity or social effect on an area by remaining empty. For Newcastle City Council, the main purpose of initiatives was to return empty private properties back into use rather than to increase the supply of affordable housing (an issue that it was conscious had to be addressed). However, while at the time of the fieldwork an explicit commitment to link empty homes work to affordability was absent, by the nature of the work in its regeneration areas, there was a gain for affordable supply.

5.4 The broad objective of seeing empty homes brought into use and therefore increasing housing supply was a common feature of the major English case studies, but not necessarily to meet housing need objectives. Evidence of comparisons being made of the cost of bringing empty homes into use against the cost for an local authority or RSL to provide higher quality, new-build affordable housing to meet housing needs, was limited. While, such a comparison should be made by local authorities to ensure cost-effective, value-for-money outcomes are achieved, the reality, as has been shown, is that other factors will shape decision-making as to why empty homes work is engaged in.


5.5 Priorities for intervention can also be influenced by access to special funding streams. For example, some local authorities prioritised town centre regeneration, e.g. through Townscape Heritage Initiatives ( THIs) and Living-Over-the-Shop ( LOTS). Plymouth City Council, the Empty Homes Partnership in Devon (See Annex 2) and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, each operated LOTS initiatives (See Annex 4).


5.6 Targeting empty private homes to boost supply and help meet a range of housing needs must take account of the geography of supply and need. Highland Council found that many of the identified empty homes were low priority being in remote locations, expensive to refurbish and not necessarily where housing need had to be met. The Empty Homes Partnership in Devon reviewed research on why properties became empty and concluded it should attempt to focus on prevention of long-term empty properties occurring. However, it had yet to set out how it would achieve this objective other than to encourage owners to sell empty properties to those who would agree to carry out remedial works.


5.7 The extent to which the reuse of empty private homes can contribute to meeting a range of housing needs is central to this research. Those local authorities in Scotland who decide to develop work in this field have to ensure that explicit objectives related to housing need are set within their strategic approach. While that will appear obvious, attention has to be paid to the fact that the research found that a variety of issues shaped the objectives and drove the actions of local authorities in tackling empty private homes.

5.8 For example, policies to eliminate sub-standard housing, policies on urban and rural regeneration, and initiatives to address properties causing serious neighbourhood nuisance or public health and safety fears, featured in the case studies. Sustainability issues are also starting to emerge as a priority. Addressing such issues may well have local political or policy importance and, if resolved successfully, will bring empty private homes into use. However, they will not necessarily contribute specifically to meeting outstanding local housing needs. Those with responsibility for overall housing strategy should identify opportunities such other policies and initiatives bring to achieving some supply "'gain" for a range of housing needs.

5.9 Local authorities will also have to weigh up the relative priority and resources for empty homes work with those for the implementation of the 2006 Act and any decisions they make to address BTS housing, establish Housing Regeneration Areas and to prioritise financial and staff resources within their Scheme of Assistance.

5.10 The following chapter looks at a fundamental element of a strategic approach required to move from aims and objectives to action to bring empty homes into use to meet housing need - data.

Back to top