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SOCIAL HOUSING & COMMUNITY FACILITIES


EASING THE HOUSING CRISIS


Getting the hundreds of thousands of UK void properties cleaned and back in use will ease housing pressure but work must be done properly, according to Shaun Doak, CEO of REACT Specialist Cleaning.


As the old saying goes, “there’s nothing as safe as houses”. Certainly, here in the UK, many people are proud of their properties and, for many more, they’re as much an investment as a place to live.


But for residential properties, a ‘void’ period of not being rented out or lived in can be hugely problematic.


What’s more, for housing associations with sizeable housing stocks, voids are a daily fact of life. By their nature, housing associations have a sizeable housing stock, making voids a perennial issue and a headache for managers. But, with careful planning and preparation, the effects of voids can be minimised.


But what exactly is a void within the context of housing? Broadly it can be defined as a property which does not have a legitimate tenant. There are many reasons why voids occur, for instance a property may become empty following the death of a tenant, abandonment or a tenant transferring to or buying another property.


“Around two-thirds of social


housing in the UK is owned by housing associations or, as the


government now calls them, Private Registered Providers.”


Over a twenty-year period, ‘right to buy’ sales and demolitions have slightly reduced the total size of the social housing stock. According to government figures, there are some 4.14m social housing units in the UK.


Around two-thirds of social housing in the UK is owned by housing associations or, as the government now calls them, Private Registered Providers (PRPs).


This housing association housing stock of 2.54m units represents 10.5% of residential property across the UK and the trend over the last twenty years has been for local authorities to transfer their housing units to specialist PRPs. And, given the size of this PRP housing stock, there is a certain proportion which at any time is void.


Indeed, separate government figures suggested that there were nearly 220,000 long-term vacant properties across


64 | TOMORROW’S FM


the UK (these properties have been vacant for more than six months, as reported in The Guardian).


Although this causes problems for housing managers, looking at the bigger picture it’s no bad thing to have a constant flow of void properties. In fact, it’s seen by many as a positive as it frees up housing for the ever-growing lists of people waiting to be provided accommodation.


The trouble is, void properties are of little or no use for efforts to ease housing pressures if the properties themselves are uninhabitable. If left for too long, they might be targeted by squatters, drug dealers or become the scene for any number of anti-social behaviour.


As I have mentioned above, there can be all sorts of reasons why housing association properties may be vacant and, sadly, sometimes these reasons can be quite distressing and may mean there are severe challenges to returning a property to a safe, hygienic and usable state.


It will all depend on the precise circumstances under which it became vacant. And even if the reason is simply that a tenancy has come to an end, there may be specific issues. For example, there may be the need to undertake a house clearance and, in extreme cases of hoarding, this can be a major and potentially hazardous undertaking.


So, what are the nuts and bolts of void property clearance for housing associations? From our point of view, when REACT receive a call to say a property has been vacated or abandoned, it is our team’s job to return it to a safe, hygienic and usable state as quickly and professionally as possible.


My advice to PRPs is that they must look to their cleaning suppliers to deliver a full-service property clearance and decontamination that covers every necessary aspect. This is far more than a cosmetic tidy up of the property. They must have the capabilities to efficiently and effectively eliminate health hazards, remove waste and provide a deep clean to the required high standard.


For example, at REACT we are experienced licensed waste carriers meaning we can remove hazardous waste, including needles and sharps, but not all providers do this so check before you commit to using a cleaning company. And if the property has fallen foul of vermin, make sure your cleaning partner can perform every aspect of vermin management, from waste removal to preventative measures that will stop the creatures returning.


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