The number of empty homes is too high in Shropshire

Shropshire Council is consulting on its Empty Homes Strategy (closes 20 September). The number of empty homes in Shropshire is higher than the national average and the number of long term empty homes in the county is increasing. That’s a worrying at a time when we have a housing crisis across the nation.

It is worth noting that statistics in this field are difficult to compile accurately [1]. Councils rely on council tax records and local reports. Now that penal council tax rates are imposed on owners of empty homes, it is likely that some owners will find ways to ensure empty dwellings appear occupied. For example, a property that is unoccupied but remains furnished will not attract penal rates here in Shropshire and many other local authorities.

Here’s how it works in Shropshire Council’s patch. A property that becomes unoccupied and unfurnished receives a one month exemption from council tax. After that the owner gets a 25% discount for five months. The full rate then kicks in. Once two years have passed, any properties that remain unoccupied and unfurnished pay 150% council tax.

It’s a good regime and the number of recorded empty homes overall is falling. But Shropshire is still lurking the bottom 50 local authorities which have the highest levels of empty housing [2]. Last year, there are more than 4,200 empty homes in the Shropshire unitary area. That’s 3.2% of the housing stock. Compare that to Herefordshire where only 2.1% of homes were empty. Across England, 2.8% of homes were empty in 2013 [3].

There is a second measure of empty homes. That is the number of homes empty for six months or more. In Shropshire, the news is not good. We are in the bottom 60 of local authorities and the number of long term empty dwellings has crawled upwards from 1,651 in 2011 to 1,868 in 2013 [4]. That’s worrying.

This post was triggered by Shropshire Council’s consultation on its Empty Homes Strategy (closes 20 September). As a strategy, this looks good to me though I do wonder if we have enough staff to tackle the problem.

I don’t know why empty housing is so high in Shropshire or why the number of long term empty homes is increasing. I’ll try and find out in coming weeks.

Notes

[1] Data from the Empty Homes charity.

[2] We rank 46th worst among 327 local authorities in England.

[3] In 2013, there were 4,214 empty homes in Shropshire, 3.2% of the housing stock. Herefordshire: 1,692; 2.1%. Telford & Wrekin: 1,888; 2.7%. England: 710,140; 2.8%.

[4] Shropshire ranks 58th worst among the 327 local authorities in England. Shropshire Long Term Empty dwellings: 2011: 1,651; 1.2%. 2012: 1,709; 1.3%. 2013: 1,868; 1.4%. England Long Term Empty dwellings 2011: 1.3%; 2012: 1.1%; 2013: 1.0%.