Tuesday, June 09, 2009

What's all the fuss about ReportEmptyHomes.com?

Of all the reasons to be fed up with the BNP’s electoral success, this was admittedly not the worst. But none the less I was pretty cheesed off to be last-minute bumped off the agenda of the Jeremy Vine show on Monday for a discussion about the merits or otherwise of messers Griffin and Brons.

What I was going to talk about was nonetheless controversial. Or at least the Daily Telegraph thought so, ReportEmptyHomes.com as many of you will know is a website we launched six months ago. Numbers of empty homes are increasing significantly at the moment. We estimate that sometime this year the numbers in the UK will rise above a million. With record number of people in housing need (1.8 million families on housing waiting lists) and house-building at an eighty year low. We believe it has never been more important to ensure empty homes are returned to use. The purpose of the website is to help do this. It helps people affected by abandoned and empty homes get a remedy by getting the problem straight to the people who can deal with it - council empty property officers. Since its November launch there have been about a 1000 reports, reporting about 2000 empty homes. 27 have already been returned to use. We think this is a great result in such a short time and bodes well for the website's continued success. I want to thank the councils who have responded to it so well.

Do Burglars really use ReportEmptyHomes.com?
There are nonetheless voices that don’t agree. Saturday’s Telegraph condemned the website as a burglar’s charter . It sounds a reasonable point to make and one we take very seriously, but not one that I think stands up to scrutiny.
Do burglars really look through websites and plan their attacks? The police say not. The Home Secretary even said so a few weeks ago “Most burglars are opportunistic” she said in February.
Do burglars target empty homes? Logic says they target properties full of possessions when nobody is at home. Empty homes tend to be just that, empty, offering poor pickings for burglars.
Do empty homes attract petty crime? Yes of course they do. Fly tipping vandalism, even arson are all common consequences of homes being empty. But the way to deal with all of this is to get the properties back into use. Exactly what ReportEmptyHomes.com aims to help happen.
Do Burglars really use ReportEmptyHomes.com? there is absolutely no evidence that they do.

Change it
Several people have suggested changes to the website, we are grateful to them for thier ideas, and we are taking them into account to see how we can improve. But some suggestions are frankly pretty daft. Privacy International advised councils to withdraw cooperation. Withdraw cooperation from whom? The requests for action they would then be ignoring are from their constituents requesting help.

One council said to us that they would not deal with referrals through the site until we changed them so they fit the criteria of their standard council complaint form.

Anonymise the whole thing say others. But what would this do? Make it a pretty boring website for one. Councils in Hampshire have taken this aprroach, but how does it help the user? Tim Morely compares the two approaches here
No, making small improvements in apparent security have big impacts on usability. This website is working well. Let’s not loose that.

Buckingham Palace
The Website has a clear abuse reporting facility. Anybody, including owners can report unsuitable content. This is sent to a moderator. Until Saturday we had had only one notification of misuse. In fact this turned out to be a typo in the address line inadvertently suggesting a different property was empty. The content was suspended immediately and was later reinstated when it had been corrected. All reports of misuse are reported to a moderator. Moderators also review the site content regularly. They had plenty to do over the weekend when a number of Telegraph reading wags tried to enter nonsense reports of properties like 10 Downing Street and a series of medieval castles. One should have read my blog, Buckingham palace was actually a good call. . It didn’t work. They were all removed immediately.

It seems we have two choices. We either work together with this website and other means to respond to people’s valid concerns about empty homes, or we just keep quiet about it for fear we might upset somebody. I’m afraid I’m not in a mood for keeping quiet.


  1. Hi there - nice post! I have a blog called The Posh Squatter and I've just written about ReportEmptyHomes from this perspective:


  2. Having worked at both ends of this argument; 31 years chasing anti social burglars and 5 chasing anti social empty home owners, I can confirm that your average burglar is too thick to go to the trouble of such searches. Burglars cruise an area and target houses which "look" a target. They are interested in easily fenceable consumables. Empty homes "look" empty, that's partly how we spot them. They are attractive for their metal and fireplaces and would be targetted with or without a web site simply because they look abandoned; which is what they are.
    Don't change the reporting process. It works.
    Don't give in to dung beetle reporting; Note the use of "exploit legal powers[EDMO]to let out without consent" for the typical hack ploy of never letting the truth get in the way of a story.
    As for councils who refuse to aknowledge the system; don't get me on my soap box! They make me soooo angry, with their namby pamby, hand wringing, pink and fluffy excuses for doing nothing!

  3. As suggested in the above comment, burglars are way too ignorant to target houses via the internet, and why would they want to break into an empty house anyway?
    I think, having worked within the tracing business for a number of years, that councils are just trying to cover their backs by pretending that this isn't a major problem. It is simple: this site highlights their ineffectiveness.
    The story in the Telegraph is a complete waste of energy to read. The headline could have been 'Charity has impact on UK's empty homes', giving most of the story to the success of the 27 properties it has helped to return to use in the six months the report site has operated. But no, negativity and fear is a far better option for newspapers of this type.