There are 23000 long-term empty homes across Scotland. If these properties were brought back into use as affordable housing it would have a dramatic effect on the amount of people who are on waiting lists across Scotland. Three years ago Shelter Scotland set up their Empty Homes project to highlight the problem of empty homes and recently this project has been extended by the introduction of the Homes Again Project.

You have a friend, let’s call him Joe. Now Joe is never one to make a quick decision and often finds himself getting overwhelmed when deciding what to do. Joe inherited a home from his granny, it’s not in the town where he lives and granny let the upkeep of the property slip in her later years. Joe knows that he has a potential windfall on his hands, but he is not to sure how to cash it in. He has no money for repairs. He doesn’t want to live in it. And he doesn’t want to sell it. So no decision has been made and the days roll into weeks, which turn into months, and then years, all the while the property is lying unused and empty.

This is where an Empty Homes Officer comes in. Five councils (Fife, East Lothian, West Lothian, Scottish Borders and Dumfries & Galloway) work in partnership, with Shelter Scotland, on the Homes Again Project, sharing two full time Empty Homes Officers who make it their business to contact empty home owners to find out what it is that has stopped them making the best use of their properties.

Macmerry, East Lothian: A home that was empty for two years, that has now been brought back into use by the Homes Again Project.

The Empty Homes Officers give advice on the different ways to rent, sell and renovate property and may soon be able to offer loans for renovation works to owners who are willing to have their properties let out as affordable housing. They can also negotiate discounts with estate agents, builder’s merchants and others that they can pass on to owners.  But the most important part of their work is playing the role of the trusted advisor, getting the wheels to start turning – getting owners to face up to the choices in front of them and pick one.  In the short time they’ve been in post they’ve already brought eight properties back into use, all through advice and problem solving – not grants.

In 2012 Scottish Councils went from having no Empty Homes Officers to having seven (over 11 Local Authorities).

Recently councils, from across Scotland, have been making bids for money from the Scottish Government Empty Homes Loan Fund to set up their own local loan funds for empty home owners in their area.  If these bids are successful we can expected to see a doubling in the number of staff who can play that trusted advisor role for all the Joes across Scotland.

You can report an empty home if you are aware of one in your area.

The Scottish Empty Homes Conference takes place on 28 November 2012.

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