Calls for empty homes to become available as rental stock

A membership body for the property sector has called for action on empty homes during National Empty Homes Week, which runs from February 28 to March 6.

Propertymark has written to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities demanding action on empty homes to bolster much-needed supply in the private rented sector and for those looking to move house or get on the housing ladder.

The latest data from Action on Empty Homes shows 238,306 homes have been empty for over six months, and that there are over 600,000 vacant homes in England.

This is more than double the UK government’s annual housebuilding target. 

While the government has set itself a target of building 300,000 new houses per year by the mid-2020s – with the most recent data for the year ending September 2021 showing 228,370 homes being complete – there are concerns that opportunities to do more to manage the existing and underused stock may be missed, according to the organisation.

In a bid to tackle supply issues in the industry, Propertymark has renewed its call for the UK government to restart the Empty Homes Community Grant Programme.

It is urging ministers to consider a scheme like the one in the recent Levelling Up White Paper, to ensure avenues available for people and local authorities to buy, lease and refurbish empty homes to also provide affordable housing.

The introduction of long-term incentives such as discounts of exemptions to property tax will also help to incentivise English councils and property owners to bring properties back to use.

This must include removing VAT on home and energy efficiency improvements as well as discounts or exemptions to council tax and stamp duty when empty properties are purchased and utilised, it stresses.

Timothy Douglas, head of policy and campaigns, Propertymark, says: “Empty homes are a wasted resource and at a time when the housing market is in the grip of unsustainably low levels of stock for sale and for rent, it makes no sense that there are thousands of homes sitting vacant.

“The Levelling Up programme places great focus on funding to redevelop brownfield sites for housing, and we believe that the same principle should be applied to bringing unused homes back into use.”