An estimated 7,000 to 10,000 people are currently UK property guardians.

More than 100,000 people could benefit from property guardian programmes in the UK, helping to tackle the country’s housing crisis.

There are currently an estimated 7,000 to 10,000 people living as property guardians nationwide, according to trade body Property Guardian Providers Association (PGPA).

But the group said this figure could increase 10-fold if more empty properties were brought into the scheme, and the sector took steps to ensure the safety and standards of accommodation.

What is a property guardian?

UK property guardians move into empty buildings, such as disused schools, fire stations or even churches, and keep an eye on them for the owners in return for below-market rent, often just half the local average.

PGPA estimates that if all empty commercial and public sector buildings, such as offices, pubs and schools, were added to the sector, a total of 10 million sq ft of vacant property could be made available to property guardians.

It points out that the programme is significantly oversubscribed, with 32,000 applications made to become property guardians in the last financial year.

Why is this happening?

Property guardian programmes are seen as a win-win situation.

On the one hand, they offer aspiring first-time buyers a low cost, and often quirky, accommodation option, while they save for a deposit.

At the same time, they help to prevent empty buildings from being vandalised or taken over by squatters, while enabling the buildings’ owners to retain more flexibility than they would have under a conventional tenancy contract.

Who does it affect?

Unsurprisingly, the scheme is most popular with young people, with 45% of UK property guardians in their 20s, while a quarter are in their 30s, according to research by PGPA.

More than a third of property guardians worked in the arts and creative industries, while 30% were key workers.

But one in five people were from medical, accountancy or legal professions.

Six out of 10 people using the scheme paid less than £500 a month for their home, with the same proportion having lived in their current residence for more than a year.

London has the largest share of guardian properties at 33%, followed by Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol.

What’s the background?

While property guardianship has been criticised in the past for being unregulated, steps are being taken to improve the sector.

The PGPA, whose membership manages 80% of the sector, was formally constituted at the end of last year, with the aim of setting high health and safety standards.

Its members must agree to ensure their properties meet minimum benchmarks and provide potential guardians with transparent information on fees.

They must also be part of the PGPA’s redress scheme and use a designated guardian bank account to ring-fence security payments, the equivalent of a deposit in the sector.

If you are interested in becoming a property guardian, you can view properties offered under the programme on Zoopla.

Top 3 takeaways

  • More than 100,000 people could benefit from property guardian programmes in the UK
  • There are currently an estimated 7,000 to 10,000 people living as UK property guardians
  • But this figure could increase 10-fold if more empty properties were brought into the scheme, and the sector took steps to ensure the safety and standards of accommodation

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