London commuter belt has seen a spike in the number of homes left long-term empty despite a downward trend across the UK since 2010.
Fourteen of the 20 local authorities that have registered the highest increases in percentage of vacant housing from 2015 to 2016, are in the South-East, the analysis shows.
“Buy to let” investors have been active in these areas, experts said.
The government has given councils new powers to charge 100% council tax premium on empty homes in Wednesday’s budget.
From 2010 to 2016, the number of long-term empty homes – defined as empty and unoccupied for more than six months – has dropped from close to 300 000 to 200 000.
However, by analyzing the official data of the Department for Communities and Local Government, the BBC Shared Data Unit has found large regional variations.
Jeremy Leaf, a north London estate agent and a former of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors residential president, said that there was evidence of the buy-to-leave” phenomenon on the outskirts of the belt. According to this definition, the investors leave property empty while the value of the land increases.
He said: “Buy-to-let generates a negative publicity, but it represents only a relatively small part of our “broken” housing market.
“It is often forgotten that many foreign investors in the firing line for letting these empty houses are the people who have helped to fund the developments, which includes numerous units of affordable housing and which could not be built.”
Real estate Agent Henry Pryor said: “For investors who are only interested in capital appreciation, rather than rental yield, the South-east is all the more attractive.”
“The only place where it makes sense, is the place where it is quickly increasing the value of the land and this happens more than anywhere else in London and the South-East because of the amount of the demand exceeds the supply,” said Dave Smith, the National Housing Federation.
In 2016, to 10 English advice, he had registered the largest number of long-term empty properties per square kilometre for five years.
What do we do?
Since April 2013, English councils have powers to charge an additional 50% council tax premium for homes that have been empty for two years or more. In November 2017 Budget tips to double council tax on empty homes.
Helen Williams, from the Empty Homes charity, said the announcement “has recognized the importance of taking measures, but it is unlikely to be a sufficient deterrent to some wealthy investors buyers”.
She said: “A more thorough examination of what might prevent people from buying property to leave empty, or almost never used, is necessary.
“The announcement also did not address the scourge of the high level of empty homes in the decrease in home prices of neighborhoods, which are often linked to the poor quality of housing in these places.”
Mr Pryor said: “Most of the rich people have the luxury to keep these homes to see the additional bonus that the cost of doing business in the united KINGDOM, not really a tax. For them it is pocket change.”
“Housing in this country has become a commodity and an investment, rather than as a basic necessity. Where we, the owners, are encouraged to provide housing [housing associations] we have lower vacancy rate and we can chip away at this phenomenon,” said Mr. Smith.”We bought our house for Â£1″
Liverpool City Council
Councils in Stoke-on-Trent and Liverpool have sold the old property forÂ£1.
Nurses Sam and Rachael Kamau, had not been able to buy their own property before they are qualified for the Liverpool scheme, under which they promised not to sell for five years.
Mother-of-two Mrs Kamau said: “We had rented for a long, long time and we don’t have the slightest idea on how to restore a house. The trip was a real rollercoaster. It was very tiring because we work and have every day since we have the keys.
“Even in March, we have been able to walk in the middle of the hallway because there was no floor, but when that was done and the new windows went in, we felt that we had turned the corner. And then it started to feel like a home. Not even a house, but a house and that was a great moment.”What the councils sayHarrow Council said it had seen a sharp increase in new developments and the jump in the six months empty houses, was due to a lag between these new properties being completed and being occupied.Watford was declared vacant housing comprised 1.5% of all households in the region because of its “buoyant housing market”. A regeneration project in Tamworth has seen the residents temporarily moved from 136 council houses, which has led to empty “for a period of time”, the borough council has said.
Canterbury City Council has stated that its most recent count is not yet published by the government – have seen a reduction in the number of vacant housing of 26% on its 2016 figure. “We estimate that only 20% of the total are really empty, when you take those that are up for sale, refurbished, in a succession or not suitable for rental housing because of their location,” a spokesman said. It has an empty homes officer to bring properties back into use.
Runnymede Borough Council has said the government’s statistics, represents a “snapshot” in time and therefore included “blips”, adding that in the long term, flows in the district which had since been reduced to their lowest number since 2004.
Across the united KINGDOM
In Scotland, 22 of the 32 councils have seen an increase in the percentage of the number of long-term empty homes in 2016, with the Aberdeenshire see an increase of 20%.
Bob Fraser, senior partner at the law firm of lawyers and estate agents Aberdein Considine, said a fall in the price of oil and gas has been the cause of the increase.
“The real estate market follows the fortunes of the oil and gas industry, it always has,” Mr Fraser said.
“The people who want to sell properties are unable to sell because of loans, or they can’t because of negative equity. Some choose to leave things until the real estate market recovers.
“The biggest fall of 20% was at the upper end of the market. The market has been very active and has been one of the most expensive in Scotland, and outside the South-East.”
In Northern Ireland, five of the 11 boards experienced a rise between 2016 and 2017. Of the northern Ireland Land and Property Services was able to provide figures up to 31 March 2017.
In Wales, eight of the 22 council areas saw the largest number of vacant housing of six years.
A spokesman for the Department of Communities and Local Government, responding to the data for England, said: “We have given councils powers to bring empty houses back into use, and the number is now at its lowest since records began, and has fallen by a third since 2010.”More on this story
The Shared Data of the Unit makes the data journalism available to new organizations of any industry in the media, in the framework of a partnership between the BBC and the News Media of the Association.
For more information on the methodology, click here. For the entire data set, click here.