Action needed on 289,000 unoccupied homes


Despite the fact that a shortage of homes is regarded as one of the main drivers behind property inflation, almost 290,000 houses in England are unoccupied.

New research from Halifax, the UK’s largest mortgage lender, shows that 289,000 homes in England have been empty for six months or longer.

The figure even exceeds the Government’s most recent house building target of 240,000 new properties per year.

The most recent data available shows that the number of empty properties fell by 19,675 (or 6%), between April 2003 and April 2006.

During the period the average price of a home increased by 34%, from £134,500 to £179,800.

While the number of empty homes has decreased as house prices have risen, the reduction does not corresponded to the rise in the cost of a home.

New legislation introduced in July 2006 provided a discretionary power for local authorities to take over the management of long-term privately owned empty homes, but only six orders have been granted.

The Government’s annual building target of 240,000 homes per year has been criticised for creating an oversupply of city centre flats and apartments.

The National Housing and Planning Advice Unit, which provides the Government with independent housing advice, has pointed out that more family homes are needed, or housing affordability will worsen.

Ironically, many of the vacant properties in England are older housing stock, more suited to family living than city centre flats.

Martin Ellis, chief economist at Halifax, “would like the Government to extend the 5% rate of VAT for renovating an empty home to all properties vacant for more than six months, not just those properties that have been unoccupied for more than two years”.

Such a move could take £4,000 off the average cost of £29,800 for restoring a home.

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