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New report reveals true extent of UK's under-occupation

Date online: 05/09/2014

This is the first time that Strutt & Parker has analysed under-occupation data for private homes, rather than for social housing, across the country.

Stephanie McMahon, Head of Research at Strutt & Parker, said: “Lack of supply is often cited as the biggest issue facing the housing industry in the UK. However, these figures clearly show that under-occupation is an equally huge issue.”

In its Housing Futures report, Strutt & Parker defines a 'Tumbleweeder' as those who have two or more bedrooms than required for the number of people living in their home (a couple is defined as needing one bedroom for their needs).

As might be expected, under-occupation becomes greater in the peripheral areas of the UK. The five most under-occupied areas in the UK are all rural areas - Rutland in the East Midlands where 63% of residents are Tumbleweeders, Eilean Siar in Scotland (60%), Monmouthshire in Wales (59%), The Cotswolds (59%) and the Orkney Islands in Scotland (58%).

On the whole cities have lower under-occupation. The five least under-occupied areas in the UK are all in central London except Glasgow City where only 19% of residents are Tumbleweeders. City of London is the lowest at 13%, followed by Tower Hamlets at 17%, Westminster at 24% and Hackney at 25%.

Stephanie McMahon continues: “The challenge for the industry is to provide suitable solutions to individuals' housing needs. In particular, we need to build more homes that our older generations are prepared to downsize into. As a nation of low supply and high demand, we would rather have all homes occupied efficiently where possible. In reality, Tumbleweeders have the potential to be one of the greatest limiters of supply and, while being discussed in the social housing arena, their impact upon the wider housing market is not currently being addressed.”

There are very valid reasons for being a Tumbleweeder, as Stephanie McMahon explains: 

“Those who work in a city and spend weekends in another location may have homes for both. Likewise, empty nesters who have not downsized since their children left home, or indeed families who in the past have had ageing parents living with them may find they now have a house much larger than they really need. Tumbleweeders could also be those with part-time families which are increasingly common in the modern age – for example parents whose children only stay with them at the weekends.”

According to research by Grainger, 41% of households will be occupied by one person by 2033, and three quarters will have no dependent children. Due to our ageing population, 3.8 million older people already live alone in the UK and 70% of these are women.

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