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Disused Educational Buildings Playing an Important Role in Offering Affordable Housing Solutions

vacant school buildings

Disused educational buildings are playing an important role in offering housing solutions in the UK’s major towns and cities writes Rogier Donkersloot, Managing Director at DEX Property Management.


It’s no secret that over recent years across the UK, rents have been rising, pricing many out of the rental market in the country’s major cities. A report from 2018 by the Education Authority marked 27 schools for potential closure due to ‘sustainability’ issues for the period of 2018-2019. That’s a lot of empty building floor space across the country that could be utilised for housing. I believe property guardianship is a solution that makes economic and social sense. It’s an option that benefits both the property owner and those in need of affordable accommodation.

Vacant School Buildings – The Risks

Empty schools or university buildings following closures or awaiting refurbishments are susceptible to break-ins, structural damage and squatting. Property guardians can help to mitigate building damage and ensure a steady stream of people are seen entering and leaving the property. With over 32,000 schools in the UK, I believe the concept of guardianship is the future for schools undergoing renovation or remaining empty due to closures.

Property guardianship is not a new concept to the education sector; a recent news story suggests it is increasing in prevalence. LocatED (a government led initiative to find sites for free schools) recently revealed that appropriate school properties will be used for guardianship schemes. At DEX, we have a wealth of experience in the education sector. We have placed property guardians in a variety of school buildings including religious school properties with stunning architecture as well as state schools. Guardianship isn’t confined to school buildings in London either; the demand for commercial and educational buildings across the country is increasing. Recent buildings converted for guardianship under our watch include properties based in Plaistow, Dagenham and Torquay.

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Why Vacant School Buildings Make A Good Match For Property Guardianship

Schools are often well equipped for hosting property guardians thanks to built-in toilet facilities, showers and kitchens. DEX can usually have a building fit for guardians within just 10 days of conducting a site visit and providing a bespoke report on works to be undertaken. With schools, the turnaround time for making a building inhabitable is often fast.

Thanks to their good transport links and often central locations, schools are often sought after by property guardians. Should a school face a sudden closure, we can usually place an emergency guardian in the building usually within just 24 hours. In 2011, it was estimated there were 20,000 squatters in the UK, but eight years on it is likely this figure has risen significantly. Large public buildings are often attractive to squatters who may view commercial property as an easy prospect due to lack of occupancy.

There’s also the question of empty public buildings. Many local authorities could benefit from demonstrating accountability – empty school buildings don’t demonstrate responsibility. Since many schools are in residential areas, it can prove unattractive to local communities to board up large properties, leaving them dilapidated.

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Empty Property Cost to Local Councils

Empty Property - Local Councils

A new report by the TaxPayers’ Alliance has uncovered that councils across the UK have spent £74 million over the last two years maintaining and securing more than 6,000 empty properties.

Empty property, that is no longer used by local authorities, include former schools, council offices, business spaces and other commercial properties. The fee comes from the cost of security, maintenance, insurance and refurbishment.

Alliance chief John O’Connell said: “Councils have a duty to maintain empty properties for future tenants and owners, so of course some costs will be involved.’”

“Many people will be startled by the total cost of maintaining empty property and want an explanation as to why these have not been used or sold by the council. At a time when families are struggling with the cost of living, it is important that local authorities do all they can to ensure that they are making decisions with taxpayers in mind.’

Growth in Property Guardianship Within Local Councils

A recent report by DEX Property Management found that Local Councils are increasingly turning to Property Guardians as a cost effective, efficient and flexible way of securing empty property.

For the uninitiated, Property Guardians live in empty commercial, residential or public owned buildings that have been converted into temporary, unique living space. In return for a low monthly fee, often significantly cheaper than traditional rent, they secure and protect the property from vacant risks and ensure it remains in meaningful use.

The benefits of Property Guardianship don’t just lie with the Guardians. Property Guardianship offers a range of benefits to building owners and council decision makers too. This includes security, a steady flow of people entering and leaving the property on a regular basis to deter squatters and burglars. Property Guardians also oversee the condition of the building and report any faults. There’s no need for expensive security guards or maintenance contractors to ensure buildings do not fall in to a state of disrepair, which can save councils £10,000’s.

With much criticism often levied at council decision makers and decisions scrutinised, it doesn’t make sense that council owned buildings are left empty. If those buildings can be put to good use, and offer affordable accommodation at little or no cost to the councils then why not? In the current economic climate, it’s especially important that decision makers demonstrate accountability for budgets and the usage of public buildings. Property Guardianship can, in most cases, be a zero-cost solution for local councils and can in many cases even generate a revenue.

The Solution – Property Guardianship

Property Guardianship offers a win-win solution to empty council property security issues, discusses Rogier Donkersloot, Managing Director at one of the UK’s leading Property Guardianship providers, DEX. “There’s a lot of empty property floor space across the country that could be utilised for affordable housing. I believe Property Guardianship is a solution that makes both social and economic sense. It’s an option that benefits the council, taxpayers and those in need of affordable accommodation.”

“We are able to turn most properties in to habitable and comfortable living spaces. Our experienced team will aim to get most properties fit for Guardians within 10 days of inspection, normally at zero cost to the council or property owner. All that we ask is that a building is able to provide running water and electricity and that the property is water and windproof.”

“Whether empty property is commercial, residential or going through a regeneration process the risk of squatting, vandalism and dilapidation remains the same. Boarded up buildings are unattractive to local communities. They attract antisocial behaviour and don’t demonstrate accountability of empty property. DEX Guardians’ bring the buildings back into meaningful use, benefitting the whole neighbourhood. They mitigate vacant risks and can turn what would be a security cost into a revenue opportunity. They also provide the council with flexibility for vacant possession.”

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Secure Your Empty Property

Property Guardians provide a multi-levelled solutions for securing empty property. Live-in Property Guardians protect against threats such as squatting and dilapidation. They also deter vandals and thieves from targeting empty property for lead, copper and other metals.

Securing your property through occupation provides a highly effective solution and it is at zero cost to the property owner.  In some cases, it can even provide a revenue. If you would like further information about how Property Guardians could help protect an empty property you own or manage please email