The Empty Housing project, launched in 2004, is helping to get properties back into use through its website Empro.co.uk. The pilot project was adopted by seven local authorities in West London to help tackle the problem of empty housing in their district. The website provides an on-line market place which brings together prospective landlords and developers with long-term empty properties to acquire and renovate, and ultimately provide new homes.The issue of empty housing gained publicity from a BBC TV series, “How to Rescue a House” and the accompanying book. This is reflected in the growing interest in Empro.co.uk where over 10,000 people have registered to use the on-line service. Birmingham City Council later signed up to the service to help bring some of the 15,000 empty properties in the City back into use and this brought substantial early interest in the service across the Midlands.
Empro.co.uk has been developed by a range of organisations, including the Empty Homes Agency, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, RICS, seven West London Councils and Birmingham City Council. The website offers a new approach to unlocking the potential of empty property and bringing vacant property back on the market. Funding for the piloting of the service has been provided by a grant from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister on them recommendation of the London Housing Board, which has covered the initial set up costs and operation for two years.
Registered users of Empro.co.uk are able to view details of properties posted on the site free of charge. The exact address of properties is protected, but users are able to see a range of useful information including a photograph and description of the property, along with its size and Council Tax band. Having identified a property that potentially meets their needs, users can contact an Empty Property Officer at each Council, who are able to offer advice to help them acquire the property from the existing owner as well as potential financial support to bring it back into use in certain cases.
The website focuses on privately owned properties that have been empty for more than 6 months. There are around 33,000 long-term empty homes in private ownership in London and around 300,000 across England, equivalent to a City the size of Leeds lying empty. These figures exclude other vacant property, such as former commercial buildings, with scope for conversion.
The team behind Empro.co.uk are now in discussions with a number of local authorities across the country, and are confident that more councils will sign up to the service this year.