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What we want

The Scottish Empty Homes Partnership has consistently focused on three key areas where we believe continuing improvement would remove barriers to more private sector empty homes being brought back into use.  These are staff resources, funding, and enforcement powers.  

Staff Resources

At the time of writing our 2016/17 Annual Report there were 19 councils with one or more Empty Homes Officers (or Vacant Property Officers) dedicated to bringing private sector empty property back into residential use. While there are a number of other councils with ongoing empty homes work or funding, we believe it is only where a dedicated Empty Homes Officer is in place that significant strides have been made to bring problem empty homes back into use.  

In future we would like to see all councils providing a holistic empty homes service that includes advice and information, financial support, and enforcement as a last resort.

Along with the issue of a full time dedicated resource is the issue of continuity and permanence. The short term nature of empty homes posts is problematic when it comes to both recruitment of quality candidates and retention of quality staff. The ensuing disruption to empty homes service provision in councils with high staff turnover has a knock on effect on outcomes and numbers of homes brought back into use.  In order to both attract and retain skilled empty homes officers these posts need to be offered on a more secure basis.  Encouragingly there are now 7 permanent Empty Homes Officers in Scotland.  

The financial and social outcome return of an Empty Homes Officer has consistently been shown to be good value for money.  These returns for councils could be greatly increased by establishing permanent posts that attract the highest quality staff and encourages them to stay and hone their skills.

Recommendations:  

Mainstream funding for local Empty Homes Officer in all of Scotland’s Local Authorities, preferably on permanent contracts.

Funding

Access to funding for private sector empty homes work and particularly incentives for owners continues to be an issue for councils.  What funding does exist has restrictions on both applicants and end uses for projects.  This limits the effectiveness of these funds.  

We believe there is a need for further funding to incentivise empty home to be brought back into use for a variety of end uses and to encourage more and varied players into empty homes work including private sector developers and community groups.  

We laid out our thoughts about the type of funding streams that could be useful in our Empty Homes Financial Incentives Recommendations Paper.

Recommendations:

A diversification of financial incentive schemes offered by Scottish Government and Local Authorities to include more types of empty homes for more types of end uses:

  • Introduction of a £10m, 3 year, Empty Homes Regeneration Loan Fund
  • Introduction of a £5m, 3 year, Scottish Empty Homes Community Grants Programme
  • Introduction of a £3m, 3 year, Empty Homes Feasibility Fund
  • Continued support for town centre empty homes projects

Enforcement Powers

It is clear from Empty Homes Officers who have submitted their views to us that the number of ‘no hope’ empty homes cases and the low level use of Compulsory Purchase of problem empty homes that a new enforcement power is needed to unstick the worst cases.  

The Scottish Empty Homes Partnership is in favour of the adoption of a Compulsory Sale Order Power for vacant and derelict land and buildings.  The power as proposed by the Land Reform Review group involves the ability to put a long term empty property or piece of land on to the open market it if it has not been used in 3 years and shows no prospect of reuse.  Change of ownership has time and time again proven the key to unlocking many an empty homes case and a power that councils can realistically use without having to acquire the property, find a back to back investor, or pay compensation, would be invaluable in tackling some of the worst problem empties.  

The joint briefing we submitted with Shelter Scotland, Scotland’s Towns Partnership and Rural Housing Scotland on the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill gives a fuller description of the case for a Compulsory Sales Order.

We were pleased to hear at the stage 3 debate of the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill, Paul Wheelhouse MSP, speak on behalf of the government in reference to an amendment put forward at Stage 3 in favour of Compulsory Sale Orders:

“Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners’ Rights, Alex Neil [..] is sympathetic to the aims of amendment 72 and supports the introduction of compulsory sale orders. I can confirm that, subject to the outcome of the election, Scottish ministers will look to include provision for compulsory sale orders in the legislative programme for the next session of Parliament, once all the necessary preparatory work—including legal and practical issues—has been considered and resolved.”

On the back of this commitment we would urge the Scottish Government to set out its plans for taking Compulsory Sale Orders forward in legislation.

Recommendations:

The introduction in legislation of a Compulsory Sale Order power for vacant and derelict land and buildings.