This rallying cry follows research today from Action on Empty Homes that has uncovered the fastest rise in the number of long-term empty homes in England since the 2008/9 recession.
The number of empty homes has increased 5.3 per cent in 2018 as an additional 10,983 homes were left empty.
This is more than double the 2.6 per cent rise seen in the previous year and marks the second consecutive year with a substantial increase in numbers of long-term empty homes, reversing a previous trend of steady declines seen since 2008.
Across England, there are now more than 216,000 long-term empty homes, equivalent to 72 per cent of the government’s annual new homes target, at a time when more than a million families are on waiting lists for local authority housing.
Empty homes occur in all council tax bands, but the research unveiled that empty homes were particularly prevalent in the highest band (Band H) and in the lowest band (Band A).
Joe Garner, chief executive of Nationwide, said: “There’s no silver bullet to the housing shortage but alongside new housebuilding, empty homes can make a significant difference – these properties are often good quality and can be converted for a fairly modest cost.
“As a mutual our core purpose is to support people into homes, so we are calling to combine central government grants, local authority loans and council tax breaks for people taking them on. We believe that these policies will encourage people to refurbish their empty homes or sell them to local authorities, social landlords or community-based organisations.”
UK districts that came in for particular criticism included Aylesbury Vale in Buckinghamshire that recorded 404 long-term empty homes, according to Action on Empty Homes and Nationwide BS, a rise of 221 per cent year-on-year, London’s Southwark that was found to have 1,766 properties, a rise of 57 percent across the year and Sutton in Surrey where 686 properties were on the long-term vacancy list – a rise of 46 per cent.
Both companies observed that the significant increase in empty homes had been driven by the end of the Coalition Government’s empty homes programme and a more recent slowdown in the housing market. The Coalition’s program, which ended in 2015, had used several targeted funds to invest £216m in bringing over 9,000 long-term empty homes back into use.
Action on Empty Homes and Nationwide Building Society has now called for central government to establish a new £185m empty homes fund to provide the targeted national investment needed to bring 15,000 empty homes back into circulation.
Will McMahon, director of Action on Empty Homes, added: “The government must provide a solution for every street in Britain. Significant investment is needed to turn around communities that have faced under-investment for decades, and all local councils need new powers to take action. England’s 216,000 empty homes are everyone’s problem and everyone’s opportunity. The time for action is now.”
In July last year, local authorities were given extra powers to triple or even quadruple council tax for owners of long-term empty homes with the funds used to offset bills for other residents.