Aberdeen council launches plan to bring 1,500 empty homes back into use

The new role will help trace owners of neglected homes and help make the city's empty properties habitable again.
The new role will help trace owners of neglected homes and help make the city's empty properties habitable again.

A total of 1,500 empty homes in Aberdeen could be brought back into use after councillors approved funding a new job dedicated to the issue.

In the Aberdeen City Council budget, approved on Tuesday, a total of £20,000 will go to funding a new “empty homes officer” who would trace owners who have neglected their properties – in some cases for decades.

The new position, which was put forward by the council’s ruling Conservative, Labour and Independent administration, would be dedicated to identifying vacant private properties and bringing these back into use.

Council officers have said the majority of the empty homes are within the city centre.

In his budget speech, Aberdeen City Council co-leader Douglas Lumsden said: “We want to work with the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership, under the umbrella of Shelter Scotland, to focus on more than 1,500 homes in Aberdeen alone which sit empty and unused at a time when we know supply is outstripped by demand.

“By being proactive we aim to make positive change.

“This initiative will bring social benefits but also financial benefits for us as a local authority.”

Information provided by the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership reveals there are currently 34,000 long-term empty homes in Scotland, with at least 1,477 in Aberdeen.

Funding sources have yet to be confirmed to carry out the works but the £20,000 to fund the new role has been committed to.

In a letter, they said: “Currently in your local area, while there is some empty homes work being undertaken, there is no dedicated resource.

“Our research shows a direct correlation between the employment of a dedicated empty homes officer to the numbers of properties being brought back into use.”

The partnership said bringing empty homes back into use has social, environmental and financial benefits for local authorities.

They added: “Empty homes officers do a great deal of investigative work to trace owners who have neglected their property, in some cases for decades, and these cases often have very high council tax arrears.”

Figures provided by the organisation state that 155 properties were brought back into use in Glasgow, resulting in £121,612 of council tax income received.

Meanwhile, in Forth Valley, 370 properties resulted in £370,000 of cash from council tax and, in North Lanarkshire, 111 properties coming back into use meant £108,000 in council tax income for the local authority.

Councillor Sandra Macdonald, the council’s housing spokeswoman, said: “As part of the budget process the administration spoke to numerous organisations to get feedback on what was required within our city. Shelter established that there were approximately 1,477 empty homes in Aberdeen and that an empty homes officer could work with the council to bring back much-needed empty properties back into use.

“Bringing empty properties back into use can in some circumstances be better than building new houses and provides community benefit for the area.”

Councillor Steve Delaney, the Liberal Democrat housing spokesman, said the move is something “worth exploring”.

He added: “There’s an awful lot of empty homes that are sometimes lying empty for months and even years.

“If there’s a way that we can work with the private sector to bring some into use than that’s a good idea.

“We do have a housing crisis and any initiative to help address this is very welcome.

“I can’t predict how successful it will be but it’s something that is worth trying and even if it brought in a couple of dozen homes into use, that’s a couple of dozen families that have got accommodation that don’t at the moment.”

Research by the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership, using Office for National Statistics evidence, shows that on average a household will spend £13,410.80 per year in their local community.

They added: “Each empty home in an area could therefore be seen as costing that community around £13,000 per year in lost income, which may not be a significant amount in larger settlements, but for a small village it could make a big difference.”