The Growing Unoccupied Property 'Problem': Protecting The Risks

The latest data on vacant homes in England should serve as a timely reminder to practitioners that empty property assets should be adequately protected with suitable insurance.

Further measures should also be put in place to minimise the risks to the property.

Increasing numbers

The number of empty residential properties across the UK is continuing to increase, yet the government recently estimated that 300,000 new homes are needed in England alone.

The government and local councils are regularly criticised for lack of action when so many individuals and families are, for instance on council house waiting lists. However, only a relatively small proportion of residential properties have been empty on a long-term basis (at least six months).

In November 2023, government statistics showed that 261,189 residential properties were long term vacant – a 10% rise over the previous five years, but still a tiny proportion (roughly 1%).

Elsewhere, a report from the Local Government Association and the Empty Homes Network (also published last November) found at least a million residential properties were unoccupied (256,827 were long term empty). A spokesperson from the Empty Homes Network said empty homes are “a hugely wasted resource”.

Vacant properties, particularly those that empty long term, are a liability and must be properly insured, whatever the reason for them being unoccupied.

Private client practitioners routinely need to advise clients and their loved ones on empty property matters; and the numbers of homes that will be left empty in future is not going to diminish.

The fact is, we live in an increasingly ageing population; the numbers of people with dementia is steadily growing year on year; and a slow housing market combined with probate delays is contributing to the volume of properties laying unoccupied.

And in the absence of official figures on the number of probate properties lying occupied, it’s safe to assume that a notable proportion of long term empty homes are probate properties.

Demand for residential care is also increasing year on year. In 2022, there were 408,371 people in care homes across Britain according to Statista – many of whom will have left their home unoccupied.

How to protect vacant homes

Several risks are associated with any type of property lying empty, for example:

  • Water damage, burst pipes and flooding (particularly if in an area known for flooding)
  • Illegal activity, such as burglary and arson
  • Electrical faults and fires
  • Squatters taking over the property

Anyone leaving a residential property unoccupied for more than a brief period, for whatever reason, should be advised to take important steps to protect the property. This may be your client, their family members, attorneys under an LPA, court-appointed deputies and personal representatives.

Arranging suitable insurance is therefore crucial; and lawyers are reminded of Practice Enterprise’s own unoccupied property insurance product - Watchman Insurance. It is easy to arrange, cost-effective and designed to cover the risk of residential properties which are unoccupied after the owner’s death, or the owner has gone into care.

Cover can be arranged on the same day by telephone from a friendly and knowledgeable team.

Importantly, unlike other policies, Watchman’s policy usually covers risks including malicious damage and subsidence. The property will need to be checked every 30 days, a much less onerous requirement than other policies that expect a check every 7 days.

Many other unoccupied residential property insurance policies also demand payment of an upfront premium, which can exacerbate any cashflow issues. There is no such requirement with the Watchman policy – only a small initial deposit is required for cover to be in place.

Cover is calculated at a fixed daily rate; and the full insurance premium is then paid on completion of the sale or (if earlier) within 12 months. Also, there are no hidden charges or cancellation fees.

As well as getting suitable unoccupied insurance in place, practical steps should also be put in place. Arrangements should be made to ensure regular practical checks of the property are undertaken and records kept (particularly in inclement weather). Services, such as water and gas, should be disconnected, any letter box sealed and valuables kept out of sight.

It’s also worth family members speaking with any neighbours to ask them to report any suspicious activity, potential flooding and so on.

For more information and a quote, contact us here


Posted on 07.03.24