More than 2,000 homes are now sitting empty in Reading, the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) can reveal.

In 2020, we revealed there were more than 1,000 empty homes. There are now more than 2,000, with the number of empty homes rising from 1,711 to 2,113.

There are also more long-term empty homes – properties empty for more than six months – compared to in 2019. This has gone up from 571 to 612.

READ MORE: Reading’s properties left empty despite lengthy housing waiting list

Of these homes, 334 have been empty for between six and 12 months, 128 for between one and two years and 150 for more than two years.

A freedom of information request (FOI) by the LDRS has revealed the latest situation, as of December 10, 2020.

A large proportion of the long-term empty homes are in Whitley and Abbey, as shown by the table below.

Reading Chronicle:

We also revealed in March 2020 that one property has been empty for 23 years and that remains the case.

Reading Borough Council (RBC) approved a new empty homes strategy last year, aiming to improve neighbourhoods, maximise use of existing homes and solve problems for owners “paralysed by indecision”.

The council’s empty homes officer Nick Pritchard-Gordon said: “Several phenomena, aside of the impact of Covid, have hindered a reduction in Long Term Empty homes in 2019/20.”

This includes 115 new homes within three housing schemes which were completed more than a year ago but have not yet been sold/let and occupied, as well as a sluggish housing market last year.

READ MORE: Fish and chip takeaway plan at long-vacant shop

There are also 37 council-owned long-term empty homes awaiting demolition and replacement as part of regeneration or refurbishment schemes.

Mr Pritchard-Gordon also said there are long-term difficulties with selling retirement leasehold properties that form part of a deceased person’s estate.

There are 14 such homes that remain registered as long-term empty for longer than two years.

But he said the council does not focus on empty homes that form part of an estate unless the property is causing a direct problem to the neighbourhood.

How empty homes affect you

RBC receives over 100 empty homes complaints a year, with concerns including the unsightliness of derelict homes, fly-tipping, vandalism, damage to neighbouring property, squatters and fire-setting.

Bringing long-term empty homes back into use can also help to tackle homelessness and meet housing demand.

In 2020, there are 2,846 people on the council’s housing register waiting for a home, according to government data.

Why are there so many empty homes?

Some of the reasons for homes remaining empty for so long include:

  • Unhabitable homes where owners lack money or know how to renovate them
  • Abandoned homes
  • Unclear ownership
  • Owners sitting on properties as investment opportunities
  • Inherited homes that owners do not know about
  • To spite a neighbour or challenge the council or police
  • Owners with deep-rooted attachment to home who cannot bring themselves to do anything with it

How does the council help owners to bring their properties back into use?

Grants of up £10,000 are available to owners of homes that have been empty for six months or more for renovations and repairs.

Home improvement loans are also offered, with a five-year fixed term and an interest rate of five to seven per cent.

The most common way that empty homes come back into use is owners selling their spare home.

The council also imposes additional taxes on owners of long-term empty homes.

Homes that have been empty for two years or more are charged a 100 per cent premium on their council tax, while those owning homes empty for 5+ years have had to pay an extra 200 per cent since April 2020.

Additionally, from April this year, homes that have been empty for more than ten years will pay a 300 per cent premium.

What is the national picture?

Long term empty home numbers fell from 2008 to 2016 nationally.

But numbers have increased each year since 2016, with last year seeing the biggest rise since records began.

There were increases in long-term empty homes in 9 out of 10 English councils in the last year, with RBC’s eight per cent increase below the national average of 16 per cent.

The table below shows how Reading compares to other areas in the south east, as well as nationally.

West Berkshire has seen by far the biggest rise in the south east, with an increase of 103 per cent, going from 232 long-term empty homes to 470.

Reading Chronicle: