Councils '˜must do more' to reduce number of empty homes in Scotland

Local authorities in Scotland are not doing enough to bring long-term empty homes back into use, a poll has found.

A derelict building in Bainsford, Falkirk. There are around 34,000 privately-owned properties in Scotland that have lain empty for several years. Picture: Michael Gillen

A YouGov survey commissioned by the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership (SEHP) found that only 20 per cent of people think councils have got to grips with the number of derelict or abandoned domestic properties in their area.

More than 800 privately-owned properties were brought back into use last year, figures from the SEHP annual report found.

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But an estimated 34,000 homes across the country remain vacant, an increase of 7,000 since 2015. The rise is said to be due to councils improving their records and more owners choosing to register buildings as empty.

SEHP, funded by the Scottish Government and run by housing charity Shelter, has worked with owners to ensure properties are not left to rot since being launched in 2010.

SEHP said the latest figures proved that investing in expertise and dedicated resources made a huge difference to results.

Out of Scotland’s 32 local authorities, 19 have a dedicated empty homes officer spending at least 10 per cent of their time on the issue.

“It’s fantastic to see more than 800 homes brought back into use in one year,” said Adam Lang, head of policy at Shelter Scotland. “That’s 800 more homes that are badly needed in a country struggling to build enough to meet demand.

“The councils that are not investing in this area of work are missing out on the money new residents bring into the local economy, they’re missing out on council tax revenue and they’re missing out on an opportunity to act on neighbourhood priorities where empty properties are attracting anti-social behaviour.”

A 2016 report by SEHP found Scotland’s 34,000 empty homes are costing their owners an average of £7,500 a year or a total of £255 million.

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.

Housing minister Kevin Stewart said: “Making sure everyone has access to affordable homes is a priority for the Scottish Government – that’s not just about building new homes, but making better use of existing stock. Bringing empty homes back into use is a cost-effective way of increasing the housing supply and also helps with community regeneration.

“The work of the dedicated empty homes officers has proven invaluable in everything SEHP has achieved. Clearly there is still some way to go to ensure every area benefits, and local authorities across the country should be capitalising on the opportunities they provide.”

Last month it was revealed the number of new homes being built in Scotland remains 36.5 per cent below pre-recession levels – a situation industry leaders described today as “extremely concerning”.

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Empty homes in Scotland cost owners £255million a year