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Are empty homes the real villain of the housing crisis?

empty homes housing crisis UK STAA Key Data

As short-term rental hosts and property managers, we keenly understand the benefits we are bringing to our local economies, writes Holiday Cottage Handbook Founder, James Varley. Our rentals employ cleaners, plumbers, handy people, and others, while the bulk of supplies will be bought from nearby shops and businesses. Additionally, we encourage guests to spend money in the local economy by recommending shops, days out, and nearby restaurants.

Despite this, short-term rentals in many parts of the world are vilified. Headlines scream about the 'scourge of holiday lets' and the fact 'Airbnb' is pricing out locals in places where there is scant affordable housing.

Now while it may be true that in some locations the number of holiday lets has grown significantly in recent years, the actual amount of short-term rental properties tends to be relatively low. If you take Barcelona, for example, where the mayor is pledging to ban short-term rentals by 2028, the number of holiday rentals accounts for under 1% of the total housing stock.

empty homes housing crisis UK STAA Key Data

We also have figures from the UK Short Term Accommodation Association (STAA) and Key Data showing that the number of empty homes outstrips the amount of holiday lets in 58% of local authorities in the UK.

With the general election taking place on Thursday, (read our outline of the manifestos here) we can only hope the new government considers this fact – especially with the two main parties making significant housebuilding pledges. Perhaps the place to start would be to get empty homes back on the market, rather than hurting the holiday let sector, which brings massive benefits to people and businesses in communities across the country.

Before the election kicked the plans into the long grass, there was a proposal to abolish the furnished holiday lettings tax regime. We can only hope the new administration considers any approach to short-term lets carefully – and by reviewing the data – before making any potentially ruinous policy decisions.

Facts and figures

The data from STAA and Key Data shows that a host of local authorities across the UK contain many more empty homes than holiday homes.

In Aberdeen, Scotland, for example, there are 5,594 empty homes and 1,224 active holiday lets. It's a similar story in Caerphilly, Wales, where there are 1,157 empty homes and only 214 holiday lets, while in Wirral, England, there are 2,072 empty homes and just 709 short-term lets.

empty homes housing crisis UK STAA Key Data Andy Fenner
Andy Fenner, CEO, UK STAA.

Andy Fenner, CEO, UK Short Term Accommodation Association, said: "Holiday lets have been taking the blame for the housing crisis for a long time but this research reveals the true picture.

“We all need somewhere to live and we all need somewhere to work. This research shows that holiday lets are not to blame for the housing crisis, but rather the blame lies with councils allowing homes to sit idle. Holiday lets create much-needed jobs in communities up and down the country; empty homes produce nothing.

“Most councils are sitting on so many long-term empty homes that they eclipse the numbers of holiday lets in their area. This is where policymakers should be looking to solve the housing crisis, not scapegoating an industry responsible for jobs and investment in areas that often have nothing else.

“This is rampant hypocrisy when councils across the UK are being encouraged to strangle this industry with council tax surcharges, planning requirements, and licensing schemes. Empty homes benefit no one, and can even have negative effects on neighbours and local communities when left unattended and in disrepair, while short-term lets are a vibrant part of our tourist industry, bringing in visitors from around the world.

“The way people are being demonised for letting out their homes to families who want to enjoy a holiday in the UK is outrageous, especially while empty homes are barely talked about as a problem. The housing crisis is a complex issue, and it cannot be solved overnight, but making use of our existing housing stock would be a great place to start.

“Tourism is something we should be proud of and encourage. This country has amazing cities, beautiful countryside, and world-class visitor attractions. Holiday lets allow people to explore all that this country has to offer. We should be helping them and protecting the thousands of jobs they support."


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