There are as many empty homes in Scotland as there are homeless people
Third Force News, by Paul Cardwell
There are 34,000 homes lying empty in Scotland – equivalent to almost one for every person who registered as homeless last year.
The Scottish Empty Homes Partnership (SEHP) revealed the shocking volume of housing stock lying unused while warning communities are missing out on almost £500 million as a result.
SEHP, which is run by housing and homelessness charity Shelter Scotland and funded by the Scottish Government to bring empty homes back into use, estimates that for every home left unoccupied £13,000 is being lost to local economies as there is nobody living there to spend on local shops and services.
It also estimates that owners of unoccupied housing lose on average £7,500 from a combination of rent that could have been charged and the bills for council tax, insurance and security that still have to be paid on empty buildings.
Scottish Government figures show that in 2015/16 34,662 applications were made to local authorities under the Homeless Persons legislation.
It doesn’t make sense for people to leave a property sitting empty when it could be bringing in money for them and providing a home for someone
Kristen Hubert, SEHP national manager, is calling for owners and councils to wise up to the amount of money they are missing out and to work together to get more homes back into use.
“It doesn’t make sense for people to leave a property sitting empty when it could be bringing in money for them and providing a home for someone who needs one,” she said.
“I hope these figures encourage people with an empty property to get in touch with us or an empty homes officer at their local council to get advice on how to bring it back into use.
"There is a lot of help available to make it possible for people to overcome obstacles that stand in the way of moving back into a property, letting it out or selling it.
“We’d also like to see more councils employing dedicated empty homes officers who can support owners and members of the communities worried about an empty home in their area.”
Since the creation of the SEHP in 2010 22 councils have set themselves targets for bringing private empty homes back into use and it has helped to bring more than 2,066 homes back into use.
A change to the rules on council tax mean discounts can be abolished and local authorities are now able to charge up to 200% on a property which has been allowed to lie empty long term. This means £5m has been generated in extra council tax to fund local services.
Homes may be left empty for a number of reasons. These include when a property is damaged and the owner has no insurance or cash to fix it, when an owner living elsewhere is waiting for property prices to go up in order to sell and people having an emotional attachment to a house, perhaps when they have inherited it.
SEHP is holding its annual conference in Edinburgh today (Tuesday). Speaking there will be ex-Buzzcocks drummer turned professional photographer, John Maher, who has exhibited photographs of abandoned crofts on Harris, and Scottish Government minister for local government and housing Kevin Stewart MSP.
“Empty homes are a blight on both urban and rural communities which is why the Scottish Government supports the work of the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership to deliver real results on the ground,” Stewart said.
“The Scottish Government has provided dedicated funding to tackle empty homes, including the £4.5m Empty Homes Loan Fund and the £4m Town Centre Empty Homes Fund. The new £25m Rural Housing Fund and £5m Islands Housing Fund were launched this year and we are seeing significant interest from empty homes projects across rural Scotland.
“To add to this range of tools available to tackle this issue we are committed to bringing forward provisions for compulsory sales orders as part of the on-going programme of land reform measures.”
Members of the public and owners of empty homes can contact 0344 515 1941 or firstname.lastname@example.org for advice.