According to the housing pressure group, Empty Homes, they estimate there are some 845,000 empty homes in the UK, and some 300,000 of these have been empty long-term – that is to say for longer than six months.
Why bring them back to life?
- it is widely believed that there is a housing crisis in the UK;
- returning an empty home to the housing stock, therefore, makes better use of a community asset and helps to reduce the overall problem of homelessness;
- furthermore, if you are owner of empty property you stand to benefit financially from bringing it back to life;
- whilst it stands empty you are still responsible for repairs, maintenance and security;
- you are also likely to be paying for unoccupied property insurance;
- if a property is let out to tenants, there is less chance of trespass or vandalism that may otherwise reduce its value still further; and
- an empty property represents a lost rental opportunity.
“The Great British Property Scandal”
This was the title given to television’s Channel 4 programme about empty housing in the UK and the efforts of the series’ makers to promote the return to the habitable housing stock of otherwise empty housing.
The programme claims that it helped inspire government action on long-term empty housing through the provision of funding that now amounts to some £215 million, allocated to local authorities to provide grants and loans for bringing empty houses back to life.
A further incentive is the responsibility of HM Revenue & Customs, which has agreed to reduce from 20% to 5% the VAT payable on building works that result in the return of a home that has been empty for the previous two years back to the housing stock. Indeed, if the property has been empty for 10 years or more the VAT rating is reduced to zero.
The government and local authorities are currently using incentives rather than coercion to bring empty properties back to life. This does not mean that owners of long-term empty property are entirely free from somewhat tougher measures.
Local authorities have the power through a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) to buy your empty property whether you like it or not – although it has to be said that CPOs tend to be used only as a matter of last resort.
A local authority may also require an Enforced Sale it you owe it money that has been borrowed on the security of your property. If you do not pay back the debt that is owed, the local authority may force you to sell.
Introduced in England in 2006, an Empty Dwelling Management Order (EDMO) gives a local authority the right to take over the management of certain residential dwellings. If the council considers that the property has been empty for longer than two years and is now regarded as a local nuisance, an EDMO may be made. In that event, you hand over management of the property – including decisions about who may or may not live there – to the local authority.