A Holyrood committee has called on the Scottish Government to fulfil its manifesto commitment and introduce compulsory sales orders to tackle the problem of Scotland's empty homes.
It comes in a report by the Local Government & Communities Committee following an inquiry into Scotland’s empty homes, designed to assess the scale of the problem, the effectiveness of current legislation and what more can be done to prevent properties remaining empty for extended periods of time. Recent figures have shown that over 3% of Scotland’s 2.62 million dwellings are empty and the report concludes that this has a hugely negative impact on Scotland’s communities.
The MSPs also call it "unacceptable" that the council tax levy, which allows local authorities to remove the discount on empty properties and charge a council tax increase of up to 100%, is being overused by some councils. In some cases it is being used as a revenue raising tool, exacerbating the empty homes problem rather than solving it, by penalising people seeking to bring a property back into use, "without discussion, and impacting on their ability to complete works".
Also in the report:
- the committee welcomes the possible use of GIS mapping by local authorities to help create a more accurate picture of the number of empty homes in Scotland;
- it supports the work of Scotland’s Empty Homes Partnership, encouraging the Scottish Government to work with COSLA and the partnership to ensure that best practice in tackling empty homes is shared;
- it highlights the distinct challenge of dealing with empty homes in rural communities and calls for the Government to review the Rural & Islands Housing Fund.
Committee convener James Dornan MSP said: "Empty homes are a blight upon communities across Scotland and represent a wasted resource at a time when housing supply is limited. The evidence we have gathered makes it clear there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to this problem.
"It is not acceptable that the council tax levy is being used by some councils as a revenue raising tool, meaning people taking active steps to bring a property back into use can end up being penalised. We’d encourage more discretion in the use of this levy by local authorities.
"We’d also implore every council to employ an empty homes officer, as we’ve seen first-hand the positive impact they can have in bringing empty homes back into use."
On compulsory orders he commented: "The low takeup of compulsory purchase orders is something we’d like to see reviewed, while we are disappointed that the Scottish Government has not introduced compulsory sales orders which could empower local government to solve empty homes problems in their areas."
He added: "It is also absolutely essential that we tackle empty homes as part of a wider strategy to regenerate town centres, improve housing supply and support vibrant communities."