Empty property numbers at their highest level in 20 years as homelessness soars

Empty property numbers are at their highest level in 20 years, according to new figures, with Grenfell Tower borough Kensington & Chelsea home to the highest number of empty homes.

Government figures have today found that empty property numbers have soared over the past two decades with 1.4 million ‘spare’ homes been left empty for at least six months.

The Sell House Fast study shows affluent areas such as south west London boroughs have the most unoccupied homes, despite the capital currently experiencing a housing crisis and a growing level of homelessness.

The research coincides with figures published last week showing that nearly a quarter of a million people are experiencing acute forms of homelessness across Britain, with rough sleeping set to rise by 76 per cent in the next decade unless the Government takes long-term action to tackle the problem.

In what critics condemned as a “national scandal” a total of 159,000 households are sleeping rough or living in unsuitable temporary accommodation and experiencing other forms of acute homelessness, marking a rise of nearly a third since 2011, according to Crisis.

Of these, 57,000 are “family” households – consisting of 82,000 adults and 50,000 children – indicating that a growing number of families are being forced out of their housing and forced to live in unsuitable conditions.

Mark Scott, a specialist in residential property at law firm Blake Morgan, said: “Many homeowners might say that ‘a man’s home is his castle’ and the owner is free to leave their property vacant if they desire.

“However, there are a large number of empty properties in the UK and many would argue they could be put to better use.”

One possible way would be to encourage owners of vacant properties to make more use of them. This could be achieved by offering some kind of tax incentive for perhaps letting the property out or making it available for use by local authorities or housing associations in emergency situations.

Another incentive would be a refund of stamp duty land tax in part if the property is sold within a certain time. This might discourage owners from simply sitting on properties waiting for the value to increase.

Property Guardianship has also been muted as a security solution for landlords who have vacant buildings and are working out what to do with them.

Rather than paying out for expensive security they give the buildings to a property guardianship company who lets it out to keyworkers, charity workers and public sector workers.

The tenants are able to live in interesting, centrally located properties at a much lower price.

Tim Lowe, Founder of Lowe Guardians, said: “Property Guardianship has had a lot of bad press. Five to ten years ago, it was seen as very ‘alternative’.

“But it is now becoming increasingly popular among working professionals of all ages; people who want interesting, well located accommodation, with a strong community feel to it.

“Demand is growing exponentially.The biggest challenge to us is keeping up with demand, it is becoming increasingly high and supply has to match that.

“Property guardianship might not solve the housing crisis, but it provides sustainable housing in between social housing and luxury high end.”

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