1. ITV Report

New calls to tackle Wales' 23,000 empty homes

Empty Homes Photo: ITV Cymru Wales

Homeless charities and Welsh politicians say more could be done to help reduce the number of empty homes in Wales.

The latest figures show there are currently at least 23,000 properties which have been empty for more than six months.

Meanwhile 90,000 people are on the social housing waiting list.

Tonight Wales This Week investigates the impact empty homes are having on our communities and what is being done to tackle the issue.

There needs to be a national strategy. The Welsh Government needs to have a strategy which is going to drive this forward."

– PETER BLACK AM, Lib Dem Housing Spokesperson

Figures from across Wales show:

  • There were 20,036 empty properties in 2009/2010
  • That figure increased to 24,376 in 2011/2012
  • The number of empty social housing properties has increased in the last year
  • 80% of empty properties in Wales are privately owned
Empty Homes Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Although most recent figures indicate the number currently stands at nearly 23,000, experts say many more are unaccounted for and the real figure is closer to 25,000.

Empty Homes Wales is a project run jointly by local authorities, the Welsh Government and the housing group United Welsh.

Spokeswoman Michala Rudman says the cost of renovations is one of the many reasons owners are leaving their homes abandoned.

Usually people don’t know what to do with them and they haven’t got the finances or experience it takes to bring a home back into use so I find alot of the people we work with are grateful for help because they don’t know where to start and they don’t know who to approach."

– MICHALA RUDMAN, Empty Homes Wales

Helen Watkins from Tredegar lives next to seven empty properties which are currently boarded up.

They have all been broken into and vandalised.

We had people at my back garden coming in to go after the boilers in the empty houses and it’s intimidating for me. I’m glad I’ve got a dog. She lets me know. It is frightening when you’re a woman with two children on their own."

– Helen Watkins, Tredegar resident
A street with 7 empty properties in Tredegar Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

In 2011, the Welsh Government set itself a target of bringing 5 thousand empty homes back into use by 2016.

It has introduced the £20 million Houses into Homes scheme to help meet that goal.

313 empty homes have so far been completed through the scheme. That is less than 15 per cent of the two thousand one hundred brought back into use overall.

The Conservatives claim the Welsh Government has “grossly underestimated” the scale of the empty homes problem.

Plaid Cymru meanwhile says empty homes are a “scandal, and a “terrible waste of resources”.

But the Welsh Government says it’s still early days for the Houses into Homes scheme.

Together with other measures, it says it is on track to meet its overall target.

“Empty homes are blight on our communities and a valuable and wasted housing resource. It’s for this reason that we set the ambitious target of brining 5,000 empty homes back into use during this term of Government, and I’m delighted with the progress being made to this end. I have seen first hand on recent visits the good work being done to tackle the problem, be that through local authority intervention, our innovative £20m Houses into Homes loan scheme or by other means. It’s clear that families, businesses and communities across Wales are already seeing the immediate benefits that come from regenerating empty properties and it’s vital that this good work is continued in order to make a real difference to countless more.”

– CARL SARGEANT AM, Minister for Housing & Regeneration

Empty Dwelling Management Orders were introduced as part of the 2004 Housing Act to help tackle empty homes.

While it allows local authorities to take over temporary possession of the property and help find a tenant, it is unable to force the owner to sell.

Environmental Health Officer for Torfaen Council, John Clements, say the legal process can be lengthy.

A new bill currently being considered would look to fine owners of unused houses who have previously been entitled to reduced council tax.

This means local authorities could charge up to 150% council tax.

Homeless charity Shelter says a more joined up approach is needed to tackle empty empty homes.

Wales This Week: Empty Homes is on ITV Cymru Wales tonight at 8pm.

WALES THIS WEEK: Empty Homes Credit: ITV Cymru Wales