Empty Homes Strategy

Contents

Introduction

Addressing long-term empty homes, those empty for more than six months, is a priority for Bassetlaw District Council and partners. Empty homes are more than just bricks and mortar, it is a potential home, a place for individuals and families to live their lives and bring up their families.

Whilst empty homes are a normal part of any housing market turnover, once they become empty for a long period of time they become a wasted resource, a potential blight on the street scene and a potential cost to the Council.

The Empty Homes update is there to ensure the number of empty properties is kept to a minimum, and to identify new opportunities to encourage owners to bring them back into use. The Council Plan Ambition, Enhancing home and place, underpins the Strategy as it supports local communities.

We know at the point of writing this report there are 692 empty properties in Bassetlaw and we are working proactively to keep this number as low as possible.

Since the beginning of 2017 the Housing Standards Team within Environmental Health have brought back in to use a total of 97 empty properties using investigation and enforcement action; this is aside from numbers that can be attributed to Council Tax intervention work. An ‘empty home’ is defined as any residential dwelling regardless of how long it has been empty and, although it may be for sale, has limited or low interest from buyers.

The Strategy update will allow us to continue measures to help us tackle the issue of empty homes across the District.

Councillor Steve Scotthorne
Cabinet Member for Housing

Overview

High levels of empty properties are recognised as having a serious impact on the viability and vitality of communities. Consequently, it is identified that dealing with empty properties can have social, regenerative, financial, and strategic benefits.

Benefits to the community of bringing an empty home back into use

  • improving the appearance of the neighbourhood and regenerating communities
  • providing local affordable housing
  • reducing property deterioration and associated crime
  • Reducing anti-social behaviour (due to fire, vandalism, fly tipping and squatting)
  • Increase in Council Tax income which means more finance  for wider service delivery

Empty Homes in a Neighbourhood

Empty properties are often poorly maintained and can fall into disrepair. Neglected properties are more likely to become derelict and blight the neighbourhood with problems. An empty house can:

  • deteriorate and lose value with the consequential impact of reducing the value of properties in the locality.
  • create a health and safety risk
  • attract squatters, vandals, burglars and antisocial behaviour

Homes England

(Formerly Homes & Communities Agency)

The Homes & Communities Agency, Empty Homes Programme was withdrawn on 28th September 2016.Government investment in creating new affordable homes through long term empty properties appears to have fallen significantly since the end of the dedicated funding programme. Figures show that the HCA during 2015/16 supported, (outside London), 379 completed homes back into residential use, from empty properties. This is only a very small proportion of its total affordable homes programme.

This is a poor reflection on 2014/15 when the HCA supported the delivery of 2,233 empty properties back into use. This was the peak of the Empty Homes Programme, which ran from 2011 to 2015. By the end of March 2015, the HCA had supported the creation of 3,504 homes from empty properties outside London. This has fallen drastically since the end of the program.

Homes England have no new work streams planned involving empty homes at this time.

National Context

In 2018, the Empty Homes England data analysis suggests there are over 200,000 homes that have been empty for over six months or more across the UK. Some of these may not stay empty (if they are on the market or being renovated). However, others are left empty, perhaps because of inheritance issues or because their owners are holding on to the property hoping for a rise in its value before selling it.

The number of homes across England empty for 6 months or longer remains substantially lower than when records began in 2004, when the figure was 318,642. As of October 2017, the number had fallen to 205,293. The lowest number recorded was in October 2016, when there were 200,145.

Since 2013, Councils have been able to charge a 50% premium on the Council Tax bills of owners of homes empty for 2 years or more. A total of 291, out of 326 Councils, including Bassetlaw, applied an empty homes premium in 2017 to 2018.

The Rating (Property in Common Occupation) and Council Tax (Empty Dwellings) Bill was introduced on 28 March 2018.This new legislation increases the premium to 100% on empty properties.

England needs about 240,000 to 245,000 additional homes each year to meet newly arising demand, (source: www.gov.uk), and nearly one third of those homes need to be at below market prices and rents. In Bassetlaw there needs to be at least 239 affordable homes each year for the next five years to meet demand. (Source SHMA update 2017).

While there is clearly a need to build new homes, ignoring the potential of existing empty homes in meeting housing supply is a costly environmental mistake. Creating homes from empty properties saves substantial amounts of environmental resources compared to building new houses, and minimises the amount of land used for development.

Regional Context

The number of long-term empty dwellings tends to be higher in the North of England; this is demonstrated in the data collated below;

Region

Dwellings No.

Dwellings long-term empty no.

Dwellings long-term empty %

North East

1,214,332

16,328

1.34

North West

3,235,988

38,969

1.20

Yorkshire & Humber

2,387,869

26,082

1.09

East Midlands

2,050,463

19,044

0.93

West Midlands

2,450,840

21,186

0.86

South West

2,504,894

18,117

0.72

East of England

2,636,195

16,639

0.63

South East

3,837,353

23,935

0.62

London

3,543,444

19,845

0.56

England

23,861,378

200,145

0.84

Bassetlaw is situated in North Nottinghamshire but also has close links with the Sheffield City Region, (SCR). Bassetlaw District Council is part of the SCR Housing Compact; however, there are currently no joint initiatives in the reduction of Empty Homes. Good practice is shared between Local Authorities, but what works in one locality, may not work in another.

The figures below are from the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government and relate to vacant dwellings by Local Authority District; 2010 to 2017.

Source: Live tables on dwelling stock

This data gives an overview as to the number of empty homes across the Nottinghamshire area.

 

Empty Homes Figures by year.

 

2010

 

2011

 

2012

 

2013

 

2014

 

2015

 

2016

 

2017

 

Ashfield

910

841

773

699

582

568

586

543

Bassetlaw

775

816

786

662

569

537

528

420

Broxtowe

476

455

425

469

484

496

439

452

Gedling

908

743

739

496

442

467

407

431

Mansfield

756

868

859

659

632

685

610

673

Newark & Sherwood

919

843

820

679

682

694

647

642

Rushcliffe

491

512

437

311

282

369

337

361

The data above is a Government submission provided by each Local Authority in the Nottinghamshire area. This demonstrates continued good performance on empty homes in Bassetlaw, with 335 properties brought back into use over the last 7 years. At the current time, only Rushcliffe has a lower number of empty homes. The Bassetlaw reduction is due to a combination of market trends and intervention work from Bassetlaw District Council Environmental Health and Finance Team.

Local Context

Environmental Health, using Council Tax data, monitor the number of homes in Bassetlaw which have been empty for six months or more. Properties which have been empty for 2 years or longer are given key focus; establishing ownership of the property and the reason it remains unused.

In April 2018, Environmental Health recorded 694 empty homes across the Bassetlaw District; of these 202 had been empty for 2 years or more. This increase is attributed to an influx of new build properties, which are awaiting sale. This ‘trend’ within the housing market is a normal part of demand and supply, and figures are likely to reduce by the end of the financial year.

It is very difficult to establish the reason why some homes remain empty, this can be due to renovation work, issues around inheritance or ownership or simply failure to sell on the open market. The most common reason tends to be lack of available funds to complete remedial works that make a property habitable.

The map shown highlights the current distribution of empty homes across the District. It demonstrates two key ‘cluster’ areas of Retford and Worksop: these are the highest populated areas, so it is no surprise they have the largest number of empty homes, closely followed by Harworth and Tuxford.

Bassetlaw District Empty Homes Map – Based on Council Tax Data July 2018

 

Bassetlaw District Empty Homes Map – Based on Council Tax Data July 2018

Environmental Health Intervention

At the start of 2017, the recorded number of properties that have been empty for 2 years or more is 139. As of July 2018, a total of 97 properties have been brought back into use; reducing the numbers significantly from the previous year. This is due to interventions by the Housing Standards Team, and does not include additional units, which have come back into use via Council Tax intervention.

Financial Benefits of Bringing Homes Back into Use

New Homes Bonus; this grant is paid by central Government to local Councils to reflect and incentivise house growth in their areas. The New Homes Bonus is paid each year and is based on the amount of extra Council Tax revenue raised for new build homes, conversions and long term empty homes brought back into use.

For every property Bassetlaw Local Authority bring back into use an amount equivalent to band D Council Tax is received, (£1,529 for 2018/19), for a period of 4 years. A £350 premium is received in addition, if the home is affordable. This may well change in the next Government settlement. In the financial year 2018/19, Bassetlaw District Council will receive £1.2M in New Homes Bonus, this compares favourably with other Local Authorities, and will be used predominantly for Capital Investment.

Council Tax; for properties empty for more than 2 years Bassetlaw charge a premium on the Council Tax Bill. This is to encourage bringing the property back into use. This will be increased this to 100% for 2018/19. Although Council Tax do not have a dedicated resource for empty homes, the Property Inspector works proactively to reduce the numbers of properties stood empty. This reactive service responds to customer complaints and issues a questionnaire to establish ownership of a property. On an annual basis, an ownership questionnaire is distributed to all current empty homes. In August 2018, 404 ownership questionnaires were sent to properties empty for between 6 months to 2 years, and a further 192 were sent to properties empty for 2 years or more.

Inspections & Completions; Bassetlaw District Council are very pro-active in inspecting new build properties and serving completion notices to maximise the available homes and generate New Homes Bonus monies. All new build homes are not inspected by the Local Authority, but records held by Building Control indicate no delays across the District in serving completion notices from various agents.

Environmental Health Enforcement

Empty Properties – Available Enforcement Action for Local Authorities

A Council can serve a notice on an owner of property empty or occupied, calling on the owner to carry out remedial works. It may be, for example, that works are needed to deal with the dangerous or untidy condition of a property. Failure to comply with a notice can amount to an offence; the Council has the right to carry out the works in default and to recover the cost.
The full options on enforcement is located at http://legislation.gov.uk : A Guide to Empty Dwelling Management Orders for Local Authorities.

Enforced Sales Process – The Housing Act 2004

When enforcement action is taken and owners fail to comply, Bassetlaw District Council has the option to carry out works in default and recover costs, including ‘real time’ costs such as millage. All such works carried out are invoiced to the owner, (plus up to 8% interest per annum), but these may not be paid if, for example, the owner cannot be traced or does not have the means to pay. There remains, therefore, a debt on the property and a continuing empty home.

If the property has a charge registered against it by Bassetlaw District Council for carrying out works in default, this gives the council the power under Section 87(1) of the Law of Property Act 1925 the power of sale and the right of priority over other charges.

Full details on the enforced sales process are located at; http://legislation.gov.uk

The enforced sales process will be used as a last resort when all formal and informal action has been exhausted by a Local Authority.

Enforced sale is a long and costly process, which is very difficult to bring to successful conclusion.

Non-Enforcement Assistance/Support for Empty Property Owners

Managing Agency Agreement

Alongside, enforcement action Bassetlaw District Council also offers housing assistance by means of a repayable grant/loan to empty property owners to help them get the property back into occupation (subject to availability of funds) and meeting the eligibility criteria.

Empty property owners have the ability to enter into a Managing Agency Agreement, whereby; Bassetlaw Allocations manage the letting of the property for a period and can access the Empty Homes loan of up to £12,000, (payable from the Empty Homes Fund), to complete repairs. This is paid back through the rental income period of the management agreement, which is usually 5 years.

The Empty Homes Loan

In 2012, Bassetlaw District Council allocated £70,000 to reduce the numbers of empty homes; as of July 2018, there is £17,000 remaining from the budget. This fund has been utilised as a potential ‘loan’ to bring an empty property back into use. If a property owner can demonstrate they have no funds with which to renovate a property and bring it back into use they can ask to be considered for loan from the Empty Homes fund. The loan is then re-paid when the property is sold or brought back into use. This can be a time consuming process; many renovation works will cost more than the loan available.

VAT Reduction on Cost of Renovation

If a property has been empty for two years or more Bassetlaw Council can provide the owner with an Inland Revenue advice booklet together with a letter,(at a charge of £68.00), which will enable the owner to get a reduced rate of VAT (5%) on the renovations. This will enable them to make substantial savings on the costs for domestic households.

Conclusion

The number of empty homes in Bassetlaw is the lowest in Nottinghamshire, except Rushcliffe. However, continued maintained and further reduction in numbers is preferable. The enforcement process can be long, complicated and costly; therefore, it is vital we establish new ways of working with property owners to bring unoccupied homes back into use.

The main clusters of empty homes are concentrated in the larger centres, Retford, Worksop, Harworth and Tuxford. Empty homes in Rural Districts are often as a result of failure to sell on the open market.

The Strategy update aims to continue initiatives homes across the District further.

The Delivery plan outlines 5 key strategic priorities to tackle empty homes; Partnerships, Private Rented Sector, Resources, Town Centre Empties and Funding. These strategic aims are based on the findings of the working group and outline the core aims for reducing the number of empty homes.

The Strategy update will commence in 2019 and be monitored annually until 2024.

Delivery Plan – Empties into Homes Update, 2019 to 2024

Strategic Priority 1 - Partnerships

Actions

Identify appropriate partners to assist in reducing the numbers of empty homes in Bassetlaw; exploring options for alternative use.

Responsible Teams: Strategic Housing to lead on internal & external partnerships.

(To be reviewed annually by Strategic Housing from April 2020).

Identify and contact Charities involved in accommodation provision, particularly those who provide emergency properties.

Establish links with other Local Authorities to explore joint –working initiatives.

Work with Developers of new properties to ensure that new homes do not remain empty after completion.

Work with the largest portfolio holder of properties to investigate barriers to bringing empty properties back into use.

Work closely with Anti-Social Behaviour unit to address any issues of ASB or blight associated with empty homes.

Investigate any funding opportunities.

Strategic Priority 2 –Private Rented Sector

Forge a strong link to the Private Sector Landlords to help identify empty homes and scope out management opportunities.

Responsible Teams: Strategic Housing & Finance to lead.

(To be reviewed annually by Strategic Housing from April 2020).

Council Tax premiums.

Landlord / Developer; matching empty homes to property owners for potential purchase.

Investigate potential for Council repairs contractor to complete empty homes repairs; then lease property back to Council.

Fully utilise the Empty Homes Loan via Capital Bid and greater promotion.

Identify empty homes managed by private landlords via selective licensing investigation.

Collate information from local Estate Agents on empty private rented properties.

Look at options available for empty homes to be utilised as temporary accommodation via private landlords.

Strategic Priority 3 – Resources

Investigate providing resources to intensely manage empty homes

Responsible Teams: Environmental Health & Finance ;( Council Tax).

(To be reviewed annually by Environmental Health from April 2020).

Investigate the potential of purchase and repair scheme.

Use enforcement legislation where appropriate to bring homes back into use.

Concentrate on properties which have been empty for 2 years or longer.

Ensure all available funding is sought for bringing empty homes back into use.

Strategic Priority 4 – Town Centre Empties

Work with the Town Centre Commission to identify and reduce the number of empty properties within the Town centre of Worksop & Retford.

Responsible Teams: Regeneration, Economic Development, Community Safety, Strategic Housing & Environmental Health.

(To be reviewed annually by Environmental Health from April 2020).

Link with Town Centre initiatives to further understand identification and recording of empty properties.

Environmental Health to link with Strategic Housing and Anti-Social Behaviour team in Town centre initiatives.

Assess and monitor the number of Town Centre empties on an annual basis.

Investigate who the Landlords are and establish a Landlord/Tenant Forum for Town Centre empties.

Investigate options for alternative use.

Strategic Priority 5 – Funding

Investigate all opportunities around Government Funding and best use of existing funding allocations on empty homes.

Responsible Teams: Environmental Health, Strategic Housing & Finance;(Council Tax).

(To be reviewed annually by Finance from April 2020).

The Empty Homes Loan administered by BDC needs to be explored and its use promoted to encourage uptake.

Funding opportunities via the Special Purpose Vehicle need to be explored; this would create the potential for the purchase of empty homes via the Housing Company, renovation and re-sale/re-let to generate income.

Investigate any Government initiatives for bringing empty homes back into use.

Continue to explore Government legislation for increasing Council Tax in accordance with the Council Tax Empty Dwellings Bill March 2018.


Last Updated on Friday, November 5, 2021