Life in the Lakes - June/July 2019

Life in the Lakes – June/July 2019

Thanks to everyone who contacted me to let me know your council had increased the council tax Premium. It’ll be very interesting to hear after the first six months to a year what effect (if any) the doubling of the Premium has made to your work.

Personally speaking I like the idea that some other councils are already using, which is aimed at those genuinely struggling financially to complete repairs, by offering an option for a ‘holiday’ from the Premium while repairs are completed.

Of course I’m well aware that Empty Homes Officers (EHOs) would have to work with the owner to draw up a timetable of scheduled repairs, agree a deadline date for them to be completed and then monitor progress carefully. But it seems a fair way to help owners bring their empty homes back into use sooner rather than later. It would be the carrot and stick approach again - or in this case - the stick and then the carrot. 

I have been keeping up to date with our ‘neighbours’ at the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership (SEHP) and always read their Knowledge Hub email updates (thanks to Gavin Leask and Shaheena Din). Because the SEHP started up long after the English empty homes organisations and the Housing Act 1985/2004, they have been able to review our current practices and legislation to inform their own. Did you know that in Scotland there may be Compulsory SALE Orders (CSOs)?  Potentially quicker and more effective than the long CPO process.  I’ll be watching that with great interest. 

Personally when I started as an EHO I was shocked at how little specific Housing Act legislation there was aimed at long-term empty homes. I was also amazed at how time-consuming and resource-heavy it was, and with risks of it not even being successful at the end (for example with some Enforced Sales). It also all relied heavily on legal support, something which smaller councils can struggle with. I have been looking for something over the past ten years which is quick, cost-effective, great potential for success and can be carried out by the EHO with very little (or even no) legal support.  Could the Scottish CSO fulfil my wishes? I’ll be watching with great interest. 

In fact I may add this blogpost to the Scottish EHP website and find out what the Scottish EHOs think of this proposed new enforcement. I’ll feedback in my next blog. Sharing best practice is what Empty Homes Officers are great at. 

Best wishes from the Lakes,

Lynne Leach, Empty Homes Officer, South Lakeland District Council

Comments

Hi there

I just wondered which councils were using the 'Holiday' option and how successful this has been with regards to owners sticking to their deadlines and would it be possible to have a draft of the policy agreement to view to see whether or not this is an option for us here at Gedling. Many empty home owners say to me that the 'double council tax rates are crippling them - when this money could be spent on renovations' - I'm intrigued to see if this has been working and to see if it's something I can introduce.

Kind regards

Nikki Bryant
Empty Homes Officer
Gedling Borough Council

Hi Lynne,

Thanks for the shout out, always happy to share our learning and we look forward to seeing everybody in Birmingham in September.

On the council tax point, it's worth noting that we've had the double levy in force in Scotland since 2014, at least for the earliest adopters. Most local authorities now make use of the levy, there's only two out of 32 councils who either don't currently use the levy or plan to in future. According to last year's annual report, discretion from the levy, used in exactly the way you've outlined above, was responsible for 17% of all properties brought back into use in Scotland. Given that only around 14 councils actually give discretion, that shows the real potential of this mechanism to help bring many extra properties back into use.

In terms of CSO, I'm pleased to say that our very own Shaheena will be speaking about it at the conference in September, so hopefully that will help illuminate everybody on where we are with that enforcement power currently.

Cheers,

Gavin Leask, Partnership Officer, SEHP

Thanks Nicola, I'll get back to you on that.

And thanks also Gavin.  Just spoken to Shaheena and I'm really looking forward to hearing her speak to us at our September EHN conference on the topic of the Compulsory Sales Order, currently out to consultation with Scottish councils.

Best wishes from the Lakes, Lynne Leach

Lynne Leach

Hi Lynne,

I would also be intrested in any information/ policy stuff that other Councils are doing around the Hoilday options

Thanks

Heather