In 2023, the 9000th empty home in Scotland was brought back into use.
This huge milestone is testament to the hard work of all the Empty Homes Officers (EHOs) and others across the country who have been working on empty homes since the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership (SEHP) was launched 13 years ago.
In 2022/23 alone, 1,257 properties were brought back into use. This was the second-highest yearly total ever recorded and included 224 homes that had been empty for five years or more, which shows just how determined and persistent EHOs are.
Funded by the Scottish Government and hosted by Shelter Scotland, SEHP supports and facilitates the fantastic empty homes work taking place across Scotland by councils, EHOs and other partners. Without them, we couldn’t be where we are now, making the shift from ‘phase 1’ of the Partnership, to ‘phase 2’.
A major aspect of this shift has been facilitating a more strategic approach to empty homes work. With 2023 being the year of the rabbit, representing longevity in the Chinese Zodiac, we believe this is a particularly apt time to settle into our newly defined role.
A major highlight of the last year was the publication of the Scottish Government’s independent audit of empty homes work. This was a chance to reflect on empty homes work over the last decade, emphasising what we already knew – the huge importance of empty homes officers.
EHOs were described as a ‘critical resource’ within the audit, which also spoke of their value in bringing privately owned empty homes back into use: “The most effective means of bringing properties back into use is through an EHO being employed to prioritise empty homes action.”
The audit also praised the support and influencing role the Partnership performs as an important enabler in facilitating empty homes work, specifically in relation to the increasing number of EHOs in place around Scotland. We’re pleased to continue that work into 2024 through Kickstarter funding and ongoing support and training.
We also published our Strategic Empty Homes Framework in September with presentations to the COSLA conference and Scottish Housing Network private housing sector event.
The Framework was developed in partnership with Arneil Johnson and assists local authorities to develop and improve their approach to empty homes work by achieving a more strategic focus in terms of policy, partnership, intervention, and investment. It sets out 8 stages for local authorities to follow – from setting out the legislative and policy context for empty homes work, through sourcing data and statistical evidence, and on to SMART action planning and evaluation.
Several local authorities are already using the guidance to develop their own empty homes strategic framework and we will look to encourage more to adopt it in 2024.
In line with our increasingly strategic approach, we’ve begun more work on empty homes data. This includes working on some new user-friendly statistics on empty homes around Scotland. We’ve also continued to run our Empty Homes Advice Service which has been increasing its online offering through the development of neighbour toolkits and other content.
Last, but certainly not least, we launched a fourth Kickstarter project with Argyll and Bute Council and Health & Social Care Partnership this year. This follows our projects launched in 2021 and 2022 with Homes for Good, South of Scotland Community Housing, and Tighe an Innse Gall.
These four projects are enabling us and partner organisations to further explore and support innovative approaches to empty homes work. We look forward to sharing findings and experiences from them in the coming months, including at our 2024 conference.
However, the year 2023 also saw increasing pressures on housing across the country. Three local authorities (Argyll and Bute, Edinburgh, and Glasgow) declared a housing emergency. The Scottish Government set up a Task and Finish Group to tackle the increasing numbers of people stuck in temporary homeless accommodation. This group highlighted the need to make the best use of existing stock. It stressed that empty homes work must be a core consideration for councils in meeting increasing affordable housing need.
The government then launched a National Acquisition Plan and updated acquisitions guidance. This policy emphasised the opportunities of empty homes. And within the context of recent cuts to the AHSP budget, it is clear that every angle needs to be explored.
Whilst 2024 is set to be another exciting year, there’s no time to waste in supporting more empty properties to be turned into homes once more.
Just as we have passed one important milestone, we’re turning our eyes to the next. We want to support 10,000 empty homes back into use.
Having just joined SEHP in October, it’s been quite a whirlwind getting to grips with all the amazing work going on – but an inspirational one. Looking forward to working with you all next year!
Lisa Borthwick, National Manager, Scottish Empty Homes Partnership