Posted on 13th September 2013

Tackling the "Great British Property Scandal"

By Martin Williamson, Head of Residential Property, Latimer Hinks Solicitors

An innovative new scheme aimed at bringing some of England's 710,000 empty homes back into use has been launched in a move that will help to tackle the national housing shortage. The key message is that whilst building new housing stock is one answer, an equally viable alternative is already there for the taking.

The National Empty Homes Loan Fund (NEHLF), which has been realised thanks to collaboration between the charity Empty Homes, Ecology Building Society, central government and 39 participating local authorities, will provide loans of up to £15,000 to owners of empty properties to help bring them back into affordable use. The fund was one of the demands of last year's Great British Property Scandal campaign led by architect and broadcaster George Clarke. Currently, owners of empty homes are often unable to access funds to bring the properties back into use, creating a sadly inevitable cycle of decline in areas with high numbers of empty properties.

The new scheme will enable access to secured loans at a fixed five per cent interest rate, and will enable owners to renovate the property to Decent Homes standard. The NEHLF has been funded by a grant of £3 million from central government and is being administered by Ecology Building Society, a specialist mortgage lender that supports sustainable communities. It aims to provide funding for hundreds of properties and is available to individuals aged 18 and over who own a property that has been empty for six months or more.

Many homes are empty because of the prohibitive cost of bringing them up to a habitable standard. Empty houses can often attract anti-social behaviour and associated crimes such as vandalism and fly tipping. The Government has said that, by returning these homes into use, new life will be breathed into areas with high numbers of empty homes as well as providing local training and employment opportunities.

The scheme is a relatively straightforward answer to the national housing shortage and it will also help to smarten up our communities. With 43,940 empty homes in the North East alone, according to a survey for insurer Endsleigh, and this figure only including so-called habitable homes, not derelict properties, such renewal programmes are, however, only likely to make a dent in what in many areas is a growing problem. The jury is still out as to whether the scheme will make a real difference to available housing stock and to the attractiveness of our urban communities, in particular.