Despite our national housing crisis, there remain a large number of homes in England that have nobody living in them. This briefing looks at how many there are, assesses the policy environment which might reduce that number, and some further actions which could be taken to correct the imbalance.

There are estimated to be around 635,000 empty homes in England. Of those, 216,000 homes (or just over one-third) have been unoccupied for longer than six months, including some 22,000 in London, where housing pressures are particularly intense. It is notable that the vast majority of these homes are in private hands, with private owners accounting for 91 per cent of all empty dwellings, and probably an even higher percentage of all long-term empty homes.

The challenge is to address this imbalance in the market, when incentives on homeowners to fill or sell empty homes are weak, and when regional variations raise the risk, for example, of inadvertently punishing landlords who are genuinely trying but unable to fill a vacant property.

In this briefing, we argue that local authorities should be offered an enhanced set of powers to address the problem. In particular, incentives for authorities to use the powers they already have should be heightened, in order to widen the policy net and ensure more empty homes are captured by the existing policies and penalties.

We recommend two small but significant changes to the current rules.

  • The existing cap on the 'empty homes council tax premium' should be removed, effectively allowing local authorities to determine their own banded premiums charged on long-term empty dwellings.
  • Local authority discretion should extend beyond rate setting to include definitions of the properties that are subject to it – in particular, they should be able to set different long-term empty 'thresholds', in order to define locally what a long-term empty property is, for example, by declaring homes to be 'long-term empty' after a shorter period, or requiring a longer period of residence in order to reset the clock.