5 Dec 2011

‘Scandal’ of nearly 1 million empty UK homes

As Channel 4 begins a series highlighting the 2 million families who lack adequate housing while nearly 1 million homes lie empty, a charity tells Channel 4 News the government ‘could do more.’

The government has announced a £50m fund to help councils take over and recommission some of the 930,000 homes believed to be empty. The money will be focused on areas with large numbers of unoccupied homes.

A separate £100m programme of empty-homes grants will be made available to registered providers of affordable housing towards the costs of getting privately owned empty homes back into use.

But the chief executive of the Empty Homes campaign group, David Ireland, told Channel 4 News that although he welcomed the announcement, authorities should go further.

He said that the £100m grant should be made more widely available, and that empty public properties should be offered at a discount price.

“The government has introduced some excellent measures to bring empty homes back into use set out in it’s housing strategy. It is the first time that there has ever been a government empty homes strategy and we welcome it,

“I do think however, that there are a couple of areas where the government could do more. The first is in encouraging councils to dispose of their own abandoned property, and the second is in helping ordinary people create homes for themselves by bring property back into use,” Mr Ireland said.

Read more: 'The great British property scandal' campaign

Empty Homes also called on the government to allow local authorities to charge higher council tax on long-term empty homes so the revenue generated can be reinvested in bringing more vacant properties into use.

Nicola Hughes, from housing and homeless charity Shelter, said her organisation was supporting the Empty Homes campaign.

“We have this problem at the moment with homelessness really rising and millions of people finding out that they are priced out of the housing market.

“So it’s a real scandal that at the same time we see properties standing empty across the country, sometimes for a long time and sometimes in a really bad state of repair.

“So what we can do is try and bring those empty homes back into use and that can make a huge difference to people who are just desperate for a roof over their heads.”

On Dispatches tonight at 8.30pm

Local councils are supposed to look after you, but now the housing minister wants them to sort the problem by working with private landlords. But how suitable are the landlords they send you to? And what checks do councils make on the rooms they rent?

Jon Snow, with a team of undercover reporters, returns to investigate the reality of life for people at the mercy of private landlords, and finds families with young children sent by local authorities to live in filthy, bed bug-infested properties, while their rogue landlords make a fortune out of public money.

Have you been affected by the standard of your rental property? If you have a story about your housing situation and want to share it with Dispatches, you can email us at dispatches@channel4.co.uk.