Publishing the 2016 edition of the report Empty Homes in England, the campaign group Empty Homes, cites the surprising statistic that there are more than 600,000 empty homes in the country – and that some 200,000 of these have been empty for longer than six months,
This at a time when the overall shortage of housing – especially those looking for affordable housing is getting worse rather than better. In a story earlier in the year, the Independent newspaper revealed that the average age of the first time buyer is 38 and that this is expected to rise to 41 by 2025. The result contributes to the already high demand for accommodation in the private rental sector.
So, what is being done to bring empty homes back into the use for which they were intended – and help to address the chronic shortage of housing.
National and local government grants
At national level, the government body responsible for housing, land and regeneration – including the regeneration of empty housing – is the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), itself a part of the Department for Communities and Local Government.
According to the HCA, some £4.4 billion has been made available since 2008 in the form of loans and grants to the private sector for building new homes and bringing empty and disused property back into residential use.
This funding has been directed in a number of different directions:
- a New Homes Bonus – which gives grants to local authorities for increasing the amount of housing, the way in which it is to be used and action to bring empty property back into residential use;
- loan guarantees – granted to developers and builders engaged in the construction and regeneration of social housing and that in the private rented sector;
- Build to Rent fund – the fund provides loans of up to 50% of commercial investment in housing for rent;
- Housing Zones Prospectus – funding of £200 million to stimulate the development of brownfield sites; and
- Private Rented Sector Taskforce – offers advice and guidance to local authorities, private and local government investors, and housing organisations on the various government schemes that are available.
The execution and administration of the policy objectives and funding provided at the national level is effectively delegated in practice to local government.
It is at this level, that a large proportion of grants and loans become available to smaller, individual investors in buy to let property regenerated from previously empty housing.
With the availability of a large number of empty properties, coupled with favourable loans and bids for grants from the local authority, together with the protection of empty property insurance whilst refurbishment and modernisation takes place, there are many opportunities for prospective landlords to make use of a previously wasted housing resource.
Access to the assistance available from local authorities for the regeneration of empty housing – by way of loans and grants – varies from one council to another.
Incentives are frequently launched, therefore, on a relatively small-scale and very local basis.
Rochford District Council, in Braintree in Essex, for example is currently considering up to 400 empty properties that might be suitable for redevelopment, with grants of up to £,1000 available to prospective private sector landlords in the form of Empty House Grants, reported the Braintree and Witham Times in November 2016.
In the Rhondda Valley, in South Wales, similar schemes are run by the local authority, including Houses into Homes Loans available to applicants for grants for individuals looking to buy an empty property, refurbish it to an acceptable, modern standard and then either let it to tenants or sell it on.
Tapping into empty housing grants and loans in your own area
Just these two above examples illustrate:
- the active steps being taken by many councils around the country to identify the numbers of empty homes in their area;
- the type of incentives that are available by way of government-funded grants and loans;
- the very local – and sometimes quite small-scale but no less valuable – nature of such schemes; and
- the widespread recognition by local authorities that empty housing represents a wasted resource at a time when practically every part of the country faces a housing shortage.
The upshot is that if you are interested in buying an empty property to refurbish, modernise and let to tenants, there is likely to be help from a local council nearby. It is important, though, to do your research and establish just where and in which districts any such scheme might apply and to make enquiries about which of your refurbishment and regeneration projects might qualify for a grant or loan.