More empty homes in London than at any time since 2010

Nearly 35,000 homes across the capital deemed to be long-term vacant according to new data, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

Long-term vacant properties have become a 'scandal'
Long-term vacant properties have become a ‘scandal’

The rising number of empty homes in London has been dubbed a “scandal”, with the figure now at its highest since 2010.

The latest data shows that some 34,327 properties in the capital were “long-term vacant”, meaning that they had not been lived in for more than six months and were “substantially unfurnished”, as of 31st March 2022.

They include both privately-owned homes and those under council and housing association ownership.

The highest number was found in the borough of Southwark, with 2,422 empty homes – followed by Newham (1,944) and Barnet (1,891).

The statistics sparked criticism from opponents of London mayor Sadiq Khan, who said they were damning in the context of the housing crisis.

Although the mayor has few direct powers to reduce the number of empty properties, he can work to support councils to purchase vacant homes in their areas – as well as lobbying the government on a London-wide basis to provide funding and powers to tackle the issue.

Conservative London Assembly member (AM) Andrew Boff said the figures showed Khan had “completely failed to tackle the housing crisis […] neglecting to build the homes that Londoners desperately need while allowing more and more homes to sit empty”.

He pointed out that under Khan’s Tory predecessor, Boris Johnson, the number of empty homes in the capital had decreased by 45%, but that they had increased 73% since Khan took over in 2016.

Green AM Siân Berry called the situation a “scandal”, saying that the government could alleviate the issue by providing the mayor with more funding to expand his ‘right to buy back’ scheme.

A spokesperson for Khan responded: “The mayor has achieved record-breaking delivery of genuinely affordable homes for Londoners, including higher levels of council homebuilding than at any point since the 1970s.

“[The] statistics show that the number of long-term empty homes is rising across the country, while the rate of empty homes is lower in London than the rest of England. This is a national issue which demands a national response from government.

“Decisions taken by ministers to date have taken us backwards, by dramatically weakening councils’ ability to use empty dwelling management orders to crack down on empty homes.

“Sadiq is doing what he can with the limited powers he has, including allowing councils to buy-up empty homes through his right to buy back scheme. However, this issue needs government to act, and the mayor has been clear he wants to see empty dwelling management orders toughened up, as well as additional tough measures put in place such as raising the amount overseas owners must pay for leaving their home empty.”

The government said borough councils already had the powers they needed to address the issue.

A spokesman at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “Councils have a raft of powers to bring empty properties back into use and we are clear they should be using them to deliver new homes for communities.

“We have delivered over 2.2 million homes since 2010 and reduced the number of long-term empty homes by more than 50,000 over the same period.”

Polly Neate, chief executive of the charity Shelter, said: “Across London the housing emergency is ruining lives. Every day we see more and more people being pushed out of their local areas because of soaring house prices and extortionate private rents. So, it is always deeply frustrating to see properties sitting empty when so many people are in desperate need of a safe and secure home.

“However, even if we filled every one of these empty properties, we still wouldn’t have solved the chronic housing shortage we face. More should be done to put empty homes to use, but tackling this issue is not an adequate alternative to building more genuinely affordable housing.”

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