London Week of Action on Empty Property 2005
Briefing Note - The Challenge and Solutions
05 – 09 June 2006
Organisations supporting the London Week
The Consequences for London
Why are so many homes empty?
What is the government doing to tackle London’s
Why are the number of empty private homes not going
down significantly despite Government action?
Opportunity – The Empty Homes Agency campaign
The 6th annual London Week Of Action, takes place this year during June 5th -9th. The Week of
Action is a call to all London Boroughs, housing campaigns and residents to join together and
organize a week of action with the objective of raising awareness amongst Londoners about
wasted property and especially encouraging owners of empty property to contact us for information
about bringing their property back to use, including possible grants and leasing schemes. London
residents are encouraged to report empty property to the London Empty Property Hotline: 0870
Following the success of the previous four years ‘London Week of Action’ the week will see the
Empty Homes Agency unite with London's 33 Boroughs to organise a week long programme of
local events to raise the profile of empty property work and the issues involved in bringing the most
‘difficult’ properties back into use.
This year's London Week of Action is linked with London Sustainability Weeks (June 5th -
19th, www.lsw2006.org) and is set to be the biggest London Week of Action ever! It is
essential, given the mismatch between social housing supply and housing need in London,
that the private rented sector makes a more effective contribution to meeting housing needs
and provides a supply of good quality, secure and affordable social housing to supplement
the social housing supply provided by local authorities and housing associations.
2. Organisations supporting London Week.
The week is being supported by:
Sustainable Energy Action, contact Kay Doragh on 020 7820 3185
The Association of London Government, Contact: Maya Martinez on 020 7253 0300
London Temporary Housing Group/London Housing Federation, Laura Hare on 020 7843 2218
London Shortlife Forum, Anthony Spencer on 020 7289 0105
Brent Community Housing, John O’ Dwyer on 020 7624 3168
Confederation of Co-operative Housing, Blase Lambert on 07940 448 014
The Housing Corporation (London Region), Belinda Porich on 020 7292 4477
The Local Government Association, Gayle Gibson on 020 7664 3000
The Greater London Authority, Chris Smith on 020 7983 5770
Council for the Protection of Rural England (London region), Nigel Kersey on 020 7253 0300
London Federation of Housing Co-operatives, Stephen Mallaburn on 020 8888 7342
The figures speak for themselves: London has always been an expensive place to
live but recent data from the Halifax reveal that house prices are now at least a
staggering 50% above the UK average.
74,811 privately owned empty homes in London; 36,200 are empty long-term (longer than
63,800 statutory homeless households in temporary accommodation, the number of families
recognised as homeless in London rose by 37% (18,000) during the calendar year 2004.
309,072 households on borough waiting lists, (source 2002 Housing Register); 150,000
households are overcrowded and 61, 000 are severely overcrowded (2001 Census).
More than half of England’s severely overcrowded households are in London. More than
260,000 children in London live in households without enough bedrooms. (Shelter, 2004)
It is estimated that London’s population will grow by 800, 000 (the population of Leeds!) by
The overall supply of social housing in London has fallen significantly during the past ten
years – a net reduction of 66, 058 homes or 6, 000 homes a year. Losses through the Right
to Buy have totalled at least 12,778 during the last financial year 2003/04
In London 2004/05 only 24% (5,929) of new dwellings started (24,724) were social housing;
London has more people waiting for a council or housing association home than the total
council and housing association homes in the area.
Over the next 10 years, London will need 35,400 new homes a year, of which 20,000 will
need to be for social renting. Another 2,500 will need to be ‘affordable’ including key worker
homes (GLA, 2004). However, in 2004/05 only 24% of 24,724 new dwellings started were
London-wide, the number of households on Local Authority Register waiting lists is 309,072.
The total number of dwellings available is 779,124 (GMB, 2006). This means that almost
another 40% of the total Local Authority and Registered Social Landlord stock is needed to
The average price of a house in Greater London is currently £258,511, almost 50% higher
than the UK average of £172,979, and over the past five years house prices in Greater
London have increased by 64% (Halifax, April 2006).
London needs an estimated 100,000 affordable homes
Demand for good quality properties continues to outstrip supply: according to Bradford and
Bingley there are 13 buyers for every available home in the South East
Accommodation costs in London are causing problems for recruitment in key sectors such
as teaching, nursing and the police force.
Other sources: Office for the Deputy Prime Minister, www.odpm.gov.uk/housingstatistics
4.The consequences for London
Increasing numbers of households cannot afford to buy or rent housing in the private market but
are ineligible for social rented housing (FPD Savills estimate that this figure might be as large as
800, 000 households)
Waste of homes and increased pressure on existing housing stock at a time when London is
experiencing growing housing need, lack of affordable housing and an increase in the number of
homeless households and households placed in bed and breakfast accommodation;
Lack of affordable housing impacting on ability to attract and retain workers both in key services
and business causing huge damage to our economy and public services;
Blight and neighbourhood degeneration;
Crime and anti-social behaviour;
Devaluation of surrounding properties.
5.Why are so many private homes empty?
Most empty homes in London (82%) are privately owned. Recent surveys of London Borough
Empty Property Officers (2002) and owners of empty property in the LB Hammersmith & Fulham
(2004) revealed that the number one reason for private properties being empty is that owners hold
on to the property as an investment. The second reason is lack of money to bring the property back
into habitable condition. Other reasons homes are left empty include:
Ignorance of the options
Out of sight – out of mind
Lack of financial incentive for re-use (Empty homes still attract reduced council tax)
Complicated funding procedures via councils and / or RSLs and difficulty in obtaining empty
property grants due to lack of powers afforded to local authorities under the Housing, Regeneration
and Construction Act
Restrictive planning policies for conversion & change of use /making conversion for temporary re-
Land banking/property speculation by private investors
6. What is the government doing to tackle London’s empty homes?
The Government’s aim is to offer everyone the opportunity of a decent home, and so promote
social cohesion, well-being and self-dependence. The government is undertaking a number of
initiatives to reduce the number of London’s empty homes, including:
the introduction of Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs) which will be
available from July 2006. An EDMO enables a Local Authority to take control of a long
term empty property to secure its occupation and proper management.
encouraging local authorities to develop empty property strategies through the Housing
Investment Programme, to identify empty homes in their areas and develop strategies to
bring them back into effective use. All London boroughs now have empty property
strategies, covering housing in all tenures in their areas.
the London Housing Strategy 2005-2016 includes £15 million of funding to the 33 London
boroughs to provide cash grants for works on empty property to bring them back to a
habitable state and challenging new targets for reducing the number of empty homes over
the next ten years.
via the Spatial Development Strategy (‘The London Plan’) the Greater London Authority
(GLA) also encourages every Local Authority to produce a corporate Empty Property
Strategy referred to within their individual Unitary Development Plans and introduce more
flexible and positive planning policies with respect to change of use. For example:
flexible parking requirements for conversions and change of use projects.
highlight potential use of S.106 payments for affordable housing to be earmarked for
purchase and refurbishment of long term empty private sector properties by Councils /
providing funding to the Empty Homes Agency to promote good practice amongst London
(and national) local authorities with regard to bringing more vacant property into residential
7. Why are the number of empty private homes not going down significantly despite
In April 2005, the vacancy rate (the number of vacant properties as a percentage of all properties)
in the private sector was 3.1% (continuing the downward trend in the private sector vacancy rate
that has occurred since 1993). In 2005 the estimated fall in private sector homes empty for longer
than 6 months was 500, (from 36,649 to 36,164). While empty private homes are the major
problem (with 74,811 homes accounting for 82% of all empty properties in London), the vast
majority of private empty homes are empty for very short periods of time as part of the buying and
selling process, and necessary for an active and healthy housing market. It is estimated that to
facilitate the efficient operation of the housing market, between two and three per cent of stock will
be empty at any one time. It is therefore estimated that about 45% of private sector empty
dwellings are frictional or transactional vacancies, with properties lying empty for a short period
during the selling and buying process. It is the owners of the longer-term empties that need to be
informed of the options available to them.
8.Opportunity - The Empty Homes Agency (EHA) Campaign
There is clearly an opportunity to make the better use of our existing resources to help meet
housing needs and to improve our local environment. The EHA exists to ensure empty homes and
wasted property are returned to use for social housing. As long as local councils are unable to
build new housing for rent the EHA would like to see many more private landlords release their
property for social housing. There are cash grants for owners to do any necessary works to
bring properties back up to a decent standard. Moreover, the Empty Homes Agency estimates that
there is capacity to house 66,000 households in London’s wasted and redundant office and
commercial buildings and in empty space above shops.
It is not always possible for London Boroughs to keep up to date with all empty property within their
respective boundaries. London residents are being actively encouraged to do their bit by keeping
an eye out for & report empty buildings – redundant commercial buildings, flats over shops etc as
well as empty homes - to the London Empty Property Hotline 0870 901 6303 (a local rate
number) or completing the online form at www.emptyhomes.com.The Hotline will put owners in
touch with accredited schemes providing reliable and competitive sources of income as well as
levels of occupancy approaching 90%. The cost of a property being empty is high. If it is furnished,
landlords are liable for Council Tax and insurers often withdraw cover if it remains empty for 90
days or more. Buy to let landlords still have to pay their monthly mortgage, whether rent is received
Refurbishing an empty property to provide affordable homes is already a socially sustainable
activity. In order to ensure it is also environmentally sustainable the Empty Homes Agency is
launching Recycling London’s Empty Homes (RLEH), a new initiative to promote the
environmentally sustainable refurbishment of London’s empty properties. This new resource is
aimed at owners and will include a directory or suppliers and professionals working in the field of
eco-construction and renewable energy and will detail funding available for these works.
For further details about these campaign issues, the work of the Agency generally and details of
the programme for this year’s London Week of Action please contact us:
The Empty Homes Agency
195 – 197 Victoria Street
London SW1E 5NE
Tel. 020 7828 6288