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Plan to reclaim empty homes gets a boost

November 07 2011
Empty Homes Initiative could help bring 25k houses back into use


New powers have been introduced to help Scotland’s 32 local authorities bring the country’s 25,000 empty houses back into use.

Earlier this year, The Pavement Scotland reported on the launch of the Empty Homes Initiative, a project developed by Shelter Scotland to encourage the public to report empty properties in their area via a website.

The hope was that councils would then take action to make the homes habitable once more, helping to free up more homes to contribute to easing Scotland’s housing crisis.

Now, almost a year after the website’s launch, the Scottish Government has introduced legislation which will allow councils to tax homes which are lying empty.

If councils chose to use these powers, the Government claim up to £30 million could be raised to help build affordable homes.

The Council Tax and Empty Homes Bill will also help councils access information on unoccupied homes in their area, including who owns them. This has been a sticking point for councils who previously were not able to access information about ownership due to data protection laws.

Alex Neil, Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment, said: “Although the public purse is under huge financial strain the Scottish Government is doing all it can to increase the supply of affordable housing across the country.

“One way to do this is to tackle the problem of empty homes, which are a wasted resource and often also a blight on local communities as they attract vandalism.”

With 156,000 households on the waiting list for a home here in Scotland, it is hoped that the bill can be part of the solution to Scotland’s housing needs.

Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, who facilitates the government-funded Scottish Empty Homes Partnership, welcomed the news. But we warned that this was not a quick fix solution.

“The ultimate measure of success will be the number of empty homes brought back in to use and the number of new affordable homes built using that income,” he said. “This is not a quick win. The levy will provide several million in income for councils as part of a long term strategy.”

Since the launch of the innovative website, 22 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities have already signed up but it is hoped that the new powers will encourage all of the 32 local authorities to do more.

Kristen Miller, Shelter Scotland’s empty homes co-ordinator, said: “Making use of empty homes has many benefits - it adds to the housing supply, contributes to local regeneration and supports rural communities and community safety. We urge councils to make the most of these new powers and to do all they can to utilise the houses they already have in their communities.”