Over 20,000 homes stand empty across South London while homeless families struggle

By Lizzie May

Homelessness campaigners are fighting for public awareness after shocking figures reveal South London has tens of thousands of unused homes.

Data compiled by Action on Empty Homes (AEH) found that there are a total of 20,075 houses that are either long-term empty homes without residents, or second homes, that could go to struggling homeless families.

Figures show South London has thousands of unused homes, including Croydon with 2,049, Lambeth with 1,523 and Southwark with 5,988.

Between 2019 and 2020, Wandsworth had a 72 per cent increase in long-term empty homes, with Lewisham also up by 44 per cent and Bromley at 49 per cent.

Out of the 11 South London boroughs, Greenwich was found to be the only one to have a decrease in the number of long-term empty homes.

AEH campaigners staged photoshoots on 17 April using campaign banners and placards outside new developments that do not contain any social housing, decanted council homes, and long-term empty homes.

The online rally involved a broad coalition of housing, community and trade union organisations supporting the action, including the Big Issue, Streets Kitchen and Unite the Union, based in London.

Livestreaming of the event took place between 11am to 12pm, on both Facebook and Youtube, featuring live footage from the local photoshoots as well as speakers in the ‘studio’.

Speakers included founder of Big Issue John Bird, assistant general secretary of Unite the Union Jon Glackin and Tyrone Scott of homelessness charity Shelter.

AEH says the pandemic has highlighted the health impacts of temporary accommodation and overcrowding and in turn has created another health emergency, and a ‘crisis of affordability’.

Campaign manager at AEH, Chris Bailey, said: “With over half a million homes without residents revealed by government data, we believe it’s time to act.

“Long-term empty homes and unused second homes in England are where we should start.

“These make up over 530,000 homes without residents – homes you can’t rent, and can’t buy, but which could offer vitally needed housing to the homeless.

“This is why we have called for a day of action on April 17 to highlight the need for solutions to our worsening national housing crisis.

“It is time for Government to back local councils’ calls for new powers and investment to start bringing empty homes back into use for homeless families in desperate need of housing.”

London Councils estimate there are over 70,000 ‘whole home’ short-lets in London, all without residents.


Director of Action on Empty Homes, Will McMahon, said: “It can’t be right that in the last four years we have seen an escalating housing crisis while the number of long-term empty houses keeps rising.

“Today there are nearly 100,000 families languishing in overcrowded and temporary accommodation at a time when we have seen overcrowded housing linked to the spread of the coronavirus and to higher mortality.

“We cannot afford to see over 268,000 homes standing empty across the country because of the lack of government strategy to support councils to bring them back into use.

“It will be impossible to ‘build back better’ if we keep letting our housing crisis get worse.

“AEH calls on government to introduce a new national empty homes programme to create additional housing supply for those in most housing need, utilising properties currently left vacant or in need of renovation.”

Tanya Murat, from Homes for All, said: “We have already organised four empty homes protests over the past year.

“It is clear that people who are living in overcrowded or shared accommodation cannot self-isolate and are at much greater risk of getting sick and dying of Covid-19.

“At the end of the second World War there was a similar housing and public health emergency, and Winston Churchill’s government was forced by public pressure to requisition empty homes.

“We want to ensure this government does the same.”

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