Nationally, we are seeing a year-on-year rise in the number of long-term empty homes, with almost 270,000 empty. In Bristol alone, there are around 1,000 homes currently unoccupied. In the context of a housing crisis, reoccupying these empty properties is a top priority. This week marks National Empty Homes Week, helping highlight the issue, as well as the work being done to reduce the number of empty homes in Bristol.
We know how important this issue is to communities, and the detrimental impact empty or derelict homes can have on local areas. Our Private Renting Team has a range of tools at their disposal to get properties reoccupied, ranging from support services and incentives to enforcement action. Last year, the team helped bring around 500 empty homes back into use, providing more homes for Bristolians who need them. However, we recognise there’s still a long way to go.
As well as supporting landlords to find a suitable tenant and write up tenancy agreements, we incentivise reletting of homes. Through Lendology, Bristol properties have benefited from some of the £17 million lent to South West homeowners for repairs, improvements, and energy efficiency/renewable energy measures, with deferred options to give owners space to rent, sell, or move in before repayments start.
These services have meant most empty properties are reoccupied within two years. This compares to us reletting empty council homes requiring extensive major works on average within 77 days – less than two and a half months – as of December 2021. Last year our Council relet 1,081 homes, despite the challenges around people moving house during the pandemic.
I’m also pleased that we’ve taken the additional step of introducing triple council tax rates for long-term empty homes, which makes re-letting or selling a home a more attractive option for owners. Unoccupied, unfurnished properties are now liable to pay their full council tax, rising to double rates if a property is empty for two years, and triple rates if still empty after five. This increases their chance of being reoccupied, alongside discounts available for uninhabitable properties that are empty while major works take place.
If incentives and advice don’t work, the team may be able take enforcement action, such as issuing a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO), meaning the council can acquire the property without the consent of the owner. The owner is paid for the property, but it means we can get it back on the market and available for people to occupy.
Our work in this area is not going unnoticed. Our Syrian Resettlement Team and Private Housing Team recently received an award from the Empty Homes Network, celebrating their work to bring empty properties to regulation standard and then provide them to refugees. This scheme has helped provide sanctuary to refugees escaping violence and given families with children a home, as Bristol rehouses 75 refugees through the UK Resettlement Scheme each year. Having a safe home has allowed refugees to integrate with their communities, take on language learning courses and have a future without fear of persecution.
Fixing the Bristol housing crisis requires dynamic solutions, utilising all available options. Whilst building new homes is critically important, bringing empty properties back into use can relieve some of that pressure on Bristol’s 42 square miles of space. I’m proud of the way teams across the council are working together, and with others, to increase the number of homes available to those who need them. Reducing the number of empty properties is just one in the many steps we are taking to provide good quality, affordable homes for Bristolians.
You can report empty properties at www.no-use-emptywest.co.uk