The empty housing scandal

A small but significant proportion of the UK’s 200,000 unoccupied dwellings are empty as a direct result of an intestacy. Through the process of locating relatives entitled to inherit from an intestacy, Anglia Research plays a role in bringing some of these empty houses back into use. So when production company Two Four approached us to take part in The Empty Housing Scandal we were happy to take part. Richard Turvey reports.

Richard Turvey

The scandal that the programme’s title refers to is that an estimated 140 families become homeless every day across the UK, while at any one time 200,000 domestic properties lie empty.

We are in the middle of a housing crisis, with more than a million households on council house waiting lists in England alone. It’s an appalling situation and there’s no doubt that bringing so much empty stock back into use would be a step in the right direction.

However, it’s important to remember that there are a great many reasons why a house might lie empty for years – it may be that the owner died without leaving a will, or that they live elsewhere and won’t or can’t deal with the problems the property presents. Inevitably, the further a property falls into dereliction, the less anyone is likely to want to take it on because of the costs and hard work involved.

So, personally, I’d hesitate to use the word “scandal” as there is no one person or organisation at fault, and consequently no easy quick fix.

However, I think when you actually watch the series, it makes this clear. It focuses on the work of empty housing officers, charities and companies such as Anglia Research, as they help to bring a variety of empty homes back into use.

In every case the house is very much the star of the show and one aspect that this series really brings out is how a single neglected or derelict building can adversely affect the morale of those living near it, not to mention the value of their own properties.

So restoring dilapidated housing stock not only provides people with much needed housing, it also has a positive impact on the whole community.

Two Four filmed us at our Ipswich offices, as well as at properties near Huddersfield and Nottingham. As a Watchdog fan, it was great to get the chance to meet Matt Allwright and spend some time filming with his team. It was also great to see he shares our passion for tackling the empty housing problem.

Panel of three

There is one point I’d like to clarify. Although the programme frequently focuses on the work of local authority housing officers, both of the cases we report on in the series came from the bona vacantia list.

It’s important to highlight this because Anglia Research has worked hard over several years to expose the opaque and non competitive practices that arise when local authorities provide heir hunters with exclusive leads – practices that compromise the quality of research and result in relatives paying excessive fees.

We always recommend that, where they can, councils refer intestacy cases to the Bona Vacantia Division of the Government Legal Department, or to the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall. When referrals are not possible, we recommend that councils advertise intestacy details on their own websites, in a similar way to the unclaimed estates list. Alternatively, they can encourage competition and prevent abuse by referring each case to a number of genealogists concurrently. Our panel of three proposal is free, simple, practical and ensures every case is dealt with, whatever its value, while maintaining competition and oversight.

You can read more about it here or on our Fairness Campaigns page. The website of the Empty Homes Network brings together the many professions who are involved in empty homes work on a national basis, sharing best practice and information.

The Empty Housing Scandal is available on BBC iplayer, here.


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