Life in the Lakes - April - May 2019

Oh dear, I can’t believe the last blog I posted was after last year’s Empty Homes Network conference, where did that time go?!

Our council is currently undergoing a major transformation where all our current roles will no longer exist and we will be invited to apply for generic roles instead. I’m looking at it all a positive way (my usual ‘default’ position) and hoping that I’ll still be able to carry out empty homes work, which I love. I’ve learned so much over the past ten years and am still learning and enjoying new challenges.

I’m feeling positive because Adam Cliff is the new ‘David Gibbens’ for our EHN ‘figurehead’. Welcome to Adam, I’m already looking forward to the first conference he’ll be organising on Wednesday 25 September. I agree that Autumn is a good time to kick off with new ideas after the summer holidays.

I also like the fact that it’s the month before national Empty Homes Week. This means we can gather new ideas from the conference workshops and still have time to prepare something for the media for Empty Homes Week. I’m loving Adam has kept the same location in Birmingham too – if it ain’t broke….

Wetherspoons has become our ‘discussion and drinks’ corner the night before the conference, where it’s great to see old friends again and catch up on their lives and empty homes work. 

So, what did your council decide to do with the powers given to them to decide on whether to double the council tax Premium charge? 

I’d love to know if your council has doubled the Premium – how is it going with empty home owners?  Is a doubled Premium a better ‘lever’ to engage with owners? 

Contact me at: empty.homes@southlakeland.gov.uk, I’d love to hear your thoughts so far.  Our council has not yet doubled the premium, so your feedback could be really helpful. Looking forward to hearing from you, thanks.

Best wishes from the Lakes,

Lynne Leach, Empty Homes Officer, South Lakeland District Council

Comments

Hi Lynne,  Newcastle City Council has applied the 200% to our long term empties and I have already received a few calls asking for help so its working albeit slowly.

 

Take care

Frances

 

Following the full Council meeting in February this year at South Cambs DC, the 50% premium will be replaced by the following arrangements:

  • Homes that are empty for two years or more will be charged double their regular Council Tax (i.e. an additional premium of 100%). This will come into effect from 1 April 2019
  • Homes that are empty for five years or more will be charged a 200% premium on top of their regular Council Tax. This will come into effect from 1 April 2020
  • Homes that are empty for ten years or more will be charged a 300% premium on top of their regular Council Tax. This will come into effect from 1 April 2021

Here at Croydon we anticipated that the council would adopt the new measures and took steps to ensure we were involved in the process. It’s important to recognise that, for Council Tax, the premium is rightly viewed as a revenue generating possibility in times of government cutbacks but for Housing service it is an opportunity to engage with owners to increase housing supply. As the two views are not aligned it is important that the two teams or services work together to ensure that the purpose of the premium – returning properties to use – is accomplished.

The Empty Property team at Croydon therefore took proactive steps to make sure we were included very early in the process. We arranged a meeting, at head of service level, between our service and Council Tax to discuss the implementation of the new premium. It was agreed at the meeting that an additional paragraph would be inserted into the letters informing those subject to the 100% premium that the council had Empty Property Officers specifically tasked with assisting owners to bring their properties back into use.

Our Empty Property Hotline (direct dial) telephone number was included in the letter in addition to Council tax generic number. We expected (and have had) a few calls moaning about the unfair nature of the increase but most of the calls that we have received have been genuine enquiries about what we can do to assist.

At Croydon we are fortunate to have both a grant scheme (with nominations rights) and a loan scheme (low interest over two years) so we can assist in most of genuine cases. We always stress that we cannot assist with appeals against the increase and these must be directed to the Council Tax department as we are only there to provide assistance to owners genuinely interested in bringing their properties back into use.

I wasn’t a fan of the 50% premium in 2013 as it came as a surprise and I personally feel caused a lot of owners to report their properties as occupied. A 100% premium is now big enough to galvanise the owner into doing something and early enough to prompt action before the property has deteriorated too much.

The Council Tax department were also much better prepared this time and willingly shared their spreadsheet of ‘declared empties’ with us for cross-checking with our database of long-term empties.

We are also now working together to ensure that we are advised of properties as they reach the two year point so we could approach the owners to offer our assistance at the same time as they are informed of the council tax premium.

Hi Francis,

thanks for the lovely detailed reply and also for your tips for all of us on how to work with our council tax colleagues.  I may very well make a similar approach to our council tax group to include either a leaflet from myself on how we can help owners or, like yourself, to include a paragraph similar to yours.  But only if our council decides to increase the Premium.

When a property has been empty for the two years our council tax colleagues regularly enclose a 'VAT Savings' leaflet which I produced, to accompany the council tax increased bill due to the Premium charge.  A kind of 'carrot' to go with the 'stick'.

Lynne Leach 

Lynne Leach