Empty homes could be part of the housing crisis solution - Andy Moseley

Scotland is facing a housing emergency. A chronic shortage of housing is leading to increasing numbers of people in temporary accommodation and longer housing waiting lists. At the same time, the country has 42,865 long-term empty homes and a further 24,287 second homes, often in areas where there is a high demand for housing.

This makes the First Minister’s announcement of a consultation on proposals to allow councils to increase the council tax payable on second homes and empty homes one that has to be seen as a positive step to free up more housing stock. It is certainly one that aligns with the aims of the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership. While we are under no illusion that converting empty homes and second homes into residential properties will come even close to delivering the additional housing that Scotland urgently needs, they do have a role to play.

The consultation asks whether there should be a stepped approach to charging higher rates of council tax based on how long a home has been empty. The suggestion is that there could be a 100 per cent premium at 12 months, rising to 200 per cent premium at two years and 300 per cent premium at five years.

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This is a proposal that has been adopted in other parts of the UK and elsewhere in Europe. Whether or not it is effective in bringing homes back to use, and whether it unfairly penalises people who would who lack the finances to bring an empty home back to use and/or have inherited a home in an area where there is little or no demand for housing, are subject to much debate.

Andy Moseley, Empty Homes Policy and Projects Manager, Scottish Empty Homes Partnership.Andy Moseley, Empty Homes Policy and Projects Manager, Scottish Empty Homes Partnership.
Andy Moseley, Empty Homes Policy and Projects Manager, Scottish Empty Homes Partnership.

On the former, it cannot be assumed that large numbers of people who currently can afford a 100 per cent premium will bring their house back to use if it rises to 200 per cent, 300 per cent or even higher. On the latter, an increased premium may actually just increase the chance of the home remaining empty as money that could have been invested into the property is swallowed up by ever increasing council tax bills.

To address this, we believe there needs to be a requirement that all revenue generated through an increased premium is invested directly into support to bring empty homes back into use as social or affordable housing. We would like to see the introduction of a basket of measures which include carrots – such as grants and loans schemes that work well in some parts of the country – as well as sticks of increased premiums and the introduction of legislation to provide for Compulsory Sales Orders or Compulsory Rental Orders to force empty property to market where there are high levels of council tax arrears and the property is in an area with high levels of demand.

This would mean that owners who choose to leave their homes empty would still be contributing towards bringing homes back to use and addressing the housing emergency, while also ensuring that people who can't afford the repairs or have a home in an area where no one is buying because of systemic empties, are not unfairly penalised.

We look forward to seeing how the proposals develop during the consultation period and beyond.

Andy Moseley, Empty Homes Policy and Projects Manager, Scottish Empty Homes Partnership.



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