Empty homes

This section sets out the Government’s empty home's policy. It provides guidance for local authorities (responsible for tackling empty properties in their area) and people who want to develop empty properties as an investment opportunity or to live in.

Communities and Local Government's policy on empty homes

As the Government Department responsible for shaping housing policy in England, how existing housing stock is used falls squarely within Communities and Local Government's remit. It is important to maximise use of the existing housing stock so that we can minimise the number of new homes that need to be built each year, particularly in areas of the country where housing demand is high, such as the south east of England.

Empty homes not only restrict housing supply, they also detract from the quality of the local environment and can cause significant problems for local residents.  Poorly maintained empty properties attract vermin, cause damp and other problems for neighbouring properties and are magnets for vandals, squatters, drug dealers and arsonists. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (external link) estimates that properties adjoining poorly maintained empty properties can be devalued by 18 per cent.

The Government, working with the Empty Homes Agency (external link), an independent campaigning organisation, encourages local authorities not only to deal with their own empty properties but also to adopt measures to bring privately owned empty properties back into use as part of their strategic housing approach.  

Properties may become empty for many different reasons.  In most cases this is a short term issue, for example, following purchase where a property needs to be renovated before it can be occupied, or where it is in probate.  Such transactions are a natural function of the housing market in England.  Transactional properties are actively marketed or are being prepared for occupation.  The data we collect from local authorities about empty properties would suggest that more than half of all empty properties are transactional.

Nevertheless, a significant proportion of homes that then become empty remain so for long periods of time.  This is usually because there is a fundamental problem preventing their occupation.  Problematic properties are not actively marketed or being prepared for occupation.  This may be due to the condition of the property which means occupation is not possible until the problem has been addressed.  

Local authorities are increasingly engaging with owners to find the right solutions.  This can take the form of offering incentives such as renovation grants or loans or advice on selling, leasing and tax issues.  Such approaches are dependent on goodwill and co-operation from owners and where this is achieved can be highly effective.  However, local authorities may also resort to enforcement action where it has not been proved possible to achieve re-occupation of empty properties through voluntary means.  Local authorities have, for many years, been able to call upon statutory last resort powers to require the sale or renovation of empty properties.  The most commonly known powers are compulsory purchase and enforced sale.  In 2006, the Government introduced an additional last resort power - Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs).

Key facts and figures

Empty homes account for 3 per cent of the housing stock.  The overall vacancy rate has reduced by 9 per cent since 1997 from 763,234 to 697,055.  Of the 697,055 vacant properties in 2008, 293,728 were identified as private sector vacancies of six months or longer.

Allowing for the churn of transactional vacancies, the underlying number of private sector homes empty for more than six months has remained relatively consistent in recent years at around 1.6 per cent of the private housing stock.  

Information for local authorities

Local authorities have an important role to play in tackling the serious problems caused by empty properties. The Government recognises that local authorities often work well to present incentives for property owners to bring their properties back into use of their own accord.  Where enforcement action is necessary, there are a range of options that can be used, including a compulsory purchase, an enforced sale or an EDMO.  The type of power to use will depend on the particular circumstances you are facing. The Empty Homes Agency (external link) can provide further guidance, including a step by step guide (external link) to the EDMO process.

Empty properties increasingly attract interest from the public who see the opportunity to buy their own home at a reduced rate and who would enjoy the challenge of restoration and renovation that these properties present.  Local authorities are strongly encouraged to respond positively to such interest, for example, by contacting the owner to relay to them the interest that has been expressed in their property.  

Information for property owners and developers

Directgov  (external link) and Business Link (external link) provide information to property owners and empty property practitioners about the help available to overcome problems that prevent homes from being occupied. They are also useful for people who want to develop empty homes either as an investment opportunity or to live in.

Some local authorities have procedures to put developers and investors in touch with owners of empty property. The Empty Homes Agency website (external link) also provides contacts and advice.

Research and statistics about empty homes

The Department publishes annual statistics on the number of empty homes (vacant dwellings) in England, broken down by local authority area.  This information is collected from all local housing authorities in England as part of the Housing Strategy Statistical Appendix (HSSA).

The most recent statistics on vacant dwellings are available from the HSSA (Housing Strategy Statistical Appendix) 2007/08 (Sections A-D) (MS Excel 709 Kb). Vacant dwellings data can be found under Section 7.

Contacts and further information

If you have any queries on empty homes that are not answered here please email: empty.homes@communities.gsi.gov.uk

Practitioners may find further guidance in the Publications about empty homes.

Key words: Empty homes, empty dwellings, Empty Dwelling Management Orders, EDMOs, Empty properties

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