Scotland’s 34,000 empty homes are costing their owners an average of £7,500 a year or a total of £255 million, according to a report from the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership.
The losses come 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. Meanwhile, local economies are missing out on almost half a billion pounds because the homes lie empty with no-one in them to spend in their locality. On average each household contributes £13,000 of value to their local community which the SEHP says could be creating and sustaining livelihoods.
Kristen Hubert, SEHP national manager, said: “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.
“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.
She added: “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.”
Kevin Stewart MSP, Scottish Government housing minister, said that 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, as well as the new £25m Rural Housing Fund and £5m Islands Housing Fund launched this year.
He said: “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.
“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.”
A change to the rules on council tax mean discounts can be abolished and local authorities are now able to charge up to 200 per cent 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.
The SEHP is holding its annual conference in Edinburgh today. Speaking at the conference 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.
The SEHP runs a free national helpline for members of the public to report empty homes and for owners to seek help in renovating their properties.