Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee
Update on Next Steps on Empty Homes Policy - 1 December 2021
Letter from Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government to the Convener - - 1 December 2021
Following the Parliamentary Inquiry on empty homes undertaken by the previous Local Government and Communities Committee, I wanted to update you on the next steps for empty homes policy in the context of the Housing to 2040 route map, and explain the timeline for future work. As you know, Housing to 2040 was published in March 2021 and, in terms of empty homes, it sets out our intention to:
- Work with local authorities to audit empty homes and determine those that should be brought back into use.
- Support the work of the Empty Homes Partnership and continue to roll out the approach across Scotland.
- Give councils the powers they need to regulate and charge owners appropriately for homes lying empty and ensure they have the mechanisms to bring them back into productive use.
- Create a support package for homeowners in trouble to help them stay in their home if that is right for them and to prevent homes falling into disrepair or becoming empty in the first place.
- Establish a new fund for local authorities to apply to in order to bring empty homes and potential empty homes back into residential use and convert suitable empty commercial properties in town centres.
I believe you will recognise that these actions broadly align with the recommendations of the Inquiry.
In terms of implementation, I am pleased to confirm that I will shortly issue a grant offer to Shelter to secure the vital work of Scottish Empty Homes Partnership in 2022-23. This will ensure we can work collaboratively to deliver our vision for empty homes as part of Housing to 2040. The Partnership will continue to support local authorities to mainstream empty homes services and will widen this to include more third sector organisations. The Empty Homes Advice Service will also be used to develop a new range of self-help tools targeted at private owners to help prevent homes becoming empty in the first place and return more homes to use swiftly.
Next year, we will begin work with local authorities and the Partnership to undertake a comprehensive audit of empty homes. The audit will provide enhanced information on where empty properties are located and the prospects of bringing them back into use, helping to better target and design future interventions. The audit is likely to take around nine months. Implementation of the remaining empty homes actions within Housing to 2040 will be considered following its completion, in order to make best use of the information from the audit.
We also intend to undertake work to scope and clarify the additional benefit of Compulsory Sales Orders. This will include consideration of how we can ensure that the sales process is compatible with the ECHR. I hope you agree that it is important we allow sufficient time to consider the introduction of these new powers carefully, particularly where they affect existing property rights.
I hope this is helpful.