Empty Homes Network

National Empty Homes Conference,
May 29th 2012, Birmingham

29 May 2012 10:00
Event Description: 

The Draft Programme for this essential event  has now been published - and we've kept costs even lower than last year, with big discounts for full Members of the Empty Homes Network.  See the attached Booking Form for further details.

We're pleased to announce that Andrew Stunell MP will be speaking and has offered to address questions submitted by our practitioners (you can register your questions here).

Others speakers include representatives from key organisations such as :

  • Homes and Communities Agency
  • Empty Homes
  • self-help-housing.org (Community Grants Programme)

We have practice sessions lined up on

  • councl tax
  • good service of notices
  • EDMOs
  • Empty Homes Strategies

We  expect to see new partnership schemes being presented by

  • GraftonLtd with Dave Stott (tracing agents and enforced sales)
  • Dee Rentals (new leasing options)
  • House Doctor (new options for owners)
  • Paul Palmer and Get Wise Gruoup leasing/sjupportedl housing options)

And of course, we will have our Empty Homes Practitioner of the Year Award

We have booked our conference venue at Maple House, Birmingham.  The venue provider is the same as for our joint London Conference in 2011. You can proceed with confidence that this is indeed  the date of the Empty Homes National Conference.

With budget cuts and ever-higher travel costs, we know that keeping the cost of attending as low as possible will be a big consideration.  The costs of delegate places will be comparable with previous years, as low as £115 for full members of the Empty Homes Network and with special options for small organisations.

You can minimise your travel costs by, for example coming the night before. Travelodge rooms in central Birmingham are currently available for 28th May (ie the night before the Conference) at £33 per night (as at 11th May).  (We have no commercial relationship with Travelodge).

To book your place, simply download the booking form, complete and return to events@ehnetwork.org.uk

Contact details: 

Enquiries can be sent to events@ehnetwork.org.uk

No mention of empty homes as Emma Reynolds announces key Labour housing policies

The 2015 General Election campaign starts here as far as housing policy goes.  In a hard-hitting speech delivered in Nottingham, Emma Reynolds, Shadow Housing Minister, appears to have laid out the key Labour policies on the issue of housing supply.

The proposed policies are more radical than others that have been floated tentatively to date. They include, for example, a three-year tenancy being the norm in the private rented sector.

Regrettably, there is little there to excite empty homes practitioners.  In fact there is no mention of empty homes at all, despite recent reports of Labour proposals to hike Empty Homes Premium. Silence on this particular issue may indicate that Labour wants to avoid any association at all with higher taxation.  But we might have hoped for some mention of the importance of tackling empty homes along with positive proposals to do something about the issue.

Of most concern to empty homes practitioners would be the hostile view of New Homes Bonus, although strangely there is no promise to get rid of it; perphaps that is just taken for granted.  Whilst the negativity about NHB is understandable based on the evidence to date, it is also pretty clear from that evidence that NHB does encourage local authorities to take steps to tackle empty home: if Labour want to abolish it we would hope that they would indicate alternative incentives. 

Network writes to ministers urging extension of Empty Homes Programme deadline

A letter has been written to Brandon Lewis, MP (Minister of State, Housing and Planning) and Stephen Williams, MP (Communities Minister with responsibiity for empty homes) requesting them to extend the deadline for the various Empty Homes Programmes beyond 31st March 2015. (The letter is in our Information Library here).

The deadlines in question require projects to achieve practical completion: if they fail to do so, then not only would no further grant be forthcoming (normally 50% on completion) but all the grant received for the uncompleted project would be forfeit.  This would create too much risk for most providers to proceed unless they had complete certainty about meeting the deadline - even if there were a very good likelihood of doing so. The net result will be under-delivery against the hoped-for numbers of units as originally announced.

HCA and CLG - deliver or hand money back

CLG and HCA logos

At last Thursday's Empty Homes Summit, organised by the Empty Homes Network, representatives from the Homes and Communities Agency and the Department of Communities and Local Government stressed the need for organisations with allocations under Rounds 1 and 2 of the government's Empty Homes Programmes to be confident of delivery or hand allocations back so the funding could be re-deployed elsewhere.

Re-allocation within Empty Homes pot

Sarah Streater and Helen Williams of the HCA, both Area Managers with operational responsiblities for delivery, described how the aim throughout was to keep money within the Empty Homes Programme if at all possible. Where money was returned, the first port of call was other empty homes projects within the same area; if there were no takers, money would be returned to the national pot but with the intention of funding empty homes projects elsewhere in the country. 

Despite difficulties in some areas, there were also successful projects that had already spent their allocations and were able to deliver more if funding was available. There was a strong will within the HCA to delivery the government's policy priorities of tackling empty homes.

Reputational damage can be avoided

A point that was emphasised was that, provided organisations unable to deliver handed back their allocations promptly, they could escape damage to their reputatoins.  It was recognised that tackling empty homes - particularly the worse cases that the programme had been designed to address - required long lead times that the programme could not easily accommodate. However, where organisations hung onto the money more in hope than expectation and either failed to deliver or handed the funding back too late for it to be re-allocated, then certainly this could affect reputations with implications for

No extensions

It was also emphasised that there had been no hint of any extension to the March 2015 deadline. Any such extension would need to be sanctioned by the Treasury.  For Community Grants Programme projects there was an informal deadline of the end of October 2014 for providers to have secured certainty for their schemes (i.e. lease signed) on the expectation that anything later than that woudl be unlikely to  deliver before the end-of-programme deadline.

"Continuous Market Engagement"

One option available to providers under the HCA programme is to re-bid for money under the Continuous Market Engagement process for the 2015-18 Affordable Homes Programme. The CME opportunity should be available soon now that the first allocations for the 2015-18  have been announced.  It is difficult to know how likely such CME bids would be to succeed if the political backing for a separate Empty Homes programme is lacking.  Moreover, this would apparently involve new contracts.

Empty Homes Network representations

The Empty Homes Network expects to make representations to the government to allow, as a minimum, a de facto extension of the HCA programme by passporting 2012-15 projects through to the 2015-18 programme, thus securing a better set of outcomes for the Empty Homes Programme.  The Tribal programme is more problematic because Tribal's own contract; but surely like any contract it can be extended? or transferred to HCA, given that the paperwork is relatively simple?

Housing supply debate - honourable mentions for empty homes work

An Opposition Day debate on Housing Supply on the 9th July gives some indication of where the empty homes issues stands in current political thinking.  The answer is not very far up the agenda - but in the context of Britain's housing need that is not altogether surprising given the widely-accepted view that the nation needs upwards of 200,000 new dwellings a year (and it's never clear whether that figure takes care of the backlog). 

Buy-to-Leave and second homes

The motion was moved by the Shadow Minister for Housing, Emma Reynolds.

In an early intervention, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North, asked a "friendly" question about buy-to-leave-empty in London (i.e. speculating on rising property prices and seeking to avoid any issues associated with the dwelling being occupied in the meantime: with new dwellings, hoping to sell them on in "as-new" condition), Reynolds completely ignored the question and responded by talking about the perceived issue of land-banking instead: not a great start, but in these cases speakers are likely to want to focus on the things they planned to say.

Buy-to-leave-empty was also a phenomenon at the height of the pre-crash housing bubble but in London the picture is confused by foreign investment that is associated not with buy-to-leave-empty but buy-to-visit-very-occasionally, so this might have been a good time to talk about second homes,

Subsequently Andrew George, Lib-Dem MP for St. Ives raised the issue of second homes directly. The response did not suggest much appetite from Labour to address the issue:

I think that this whole debate around second homes is difficult. How do we prove which is someone’s first or second home? Many right hon. and hon. Members here, for example, split their time pretty much equally between London and their constituency. I am not entirely sure that the measures suggested by the hon. Gentleman would be fair or effective.

There was no hint of at least following in the steps of Wales which has taken the significant step of changing council tax to align with that on long-term empties as reported by us here - effectively a 100% council tax premium.  Nick Boles (at that time, before the reshuffle, Planning Minister) indicated that the answer to second homes might lie in Community Land Trusts i.e. to develop new supply that would be restricted to local people.

Vacant Dwellings

It proved to be Conserative MPs who had most to say about dealing with mainstream empty homes.  For example Nick de Bois, MP for Enfield North, offered:

A considerable number of empty homes in London need to be brought back into use. Between 2008 and 2012, around 5,000 empty homes were brought back into use, and I am sure that we can do more. We have more funding to bring another 1,100 empty homes back into use. In fact, there are now about 25,000 fewer empty homes in London than there were in 2008. Supplying new homes is crucial, but so is work on decent homes—restoring the stock we have to make them liveable—and restoring empty homes.

The most significant contribution was by Heather Wheeler, MP for South Derbyshire:

Another reason why this glass-half-empty Opposition debate is astonishing is that they are talking only about new builds, and not about bringing properties back into use. The most imaginative scheme has come from a charity that looks after ex-service people. It has bought two rows of houses in the north-east for £1 a street. The houses are being brought back into use by the people who will live in them. That is not costing the public purse anything. Everybody had written off those houses because they are up in the north-east and stuff does not happen up there. That is not good enough. It is time that the Opposition decided to play a better and bigger part in solving this problem.

There are lots of empty homes in our country. Councils that are using their initiative are not just putting the council tax on empty homes up from 50% to 80%; they are charging 100%, then 110% if the home is still empty the next year, and 120% if it is still empty the year after

that. That can go up to 140%, because we want homes to be brought back into use. That is not about restricting people or taxing them out. The council wants the homes to be brought back into use, so it says to the people who own them, “Do you want tenants? Our council housing people will organise tenants for you.” That is done at private rent prices and can involve short-term lets, three-year lets or whatever they want. Innovative councils are bringing empty homes back into use.

These were the only MPs to flag up the potential of local empty homes initiatives.

Closing the debate for Labour, Shadow Minister for CLG Andy Sawford (MP for Corby) did at least include empty homes in the thumbnail sketch of Labour policy on the issue of housing supply:

The right to grow; use it or lose it on land banking; reform to the housing revenue account; backing small and medium-size builders; tackling empty homes; reforming the private rented sector; scrapping the cruel bedroom tax

Nick Boles, in response, did not mention the issue although, as noted above, he did refer to second homes.

Empty Homes Network pinterest page created

There is now an Empty Homes Network pinterest webpage which will provide a useful hub of links to stories and projects elsewhere on the web as well as to features on our own website.

We welcome new followers - just click one of the "follow" buttons  on our pinterest webpage....which is http://www.pinterest.com/EmptyHomesNet/empty-homes-network/


Labour promise to raise Empty Homes Premium to 100% in England

Ed Miliband

After research by the BBC revealed that seven London boroughs were not using the Empty Homes Premium (see story here), Ed Miliband has pledged to raise the Empty Homes Premium to 100% in England, if elected, matching the approach already being taken in Wales and Scotland. A recent mention of the same policy initiative by Emma Reynolds confirms that this is now the Labour position.

The London Boroughs not using the power were named as Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster, Bromley, Havering, Hillingdon, Kingston-upon-Thames and Merton.  The cabinet member for housing for Westminster, Daniel Astaire, spoke to the BBC and offered probably the most supine view on empty homes ever to be heard: "Privately owned property is owned for a number of reasons by a number of people and it's not our part to interfere."  Homeless people in Westminster will be thrilled to hear top local politicians promising that no stone will be left unturned in the effort to ignore empty property.

It will also be an astonishing message for the many Conservative councils that are amongst the leading authorities in tackling empties, such as Kent and Cheshire West.  However, there is at least an element of truth in Astaire's remark that  "we don't think this [the premium] will make any meaningful difference in the city" - a piffling 50% on top of an already low council tax is hardly likely to strike terror into the hearts of the international bourgeoisie and assorted jet-setters who flock to purchase properties in central London, hence Boris Johnson's widely-reported call for up to 1000% premium in some circumstances.

Anecdotally, based on feedback from practitioners around the country, the Empty Homes Premium has been effective in getting owners of long-term empties to engage: many have been helped to bring their homes back into use after contacting local councils.

For a less up-to-date but much fuller picture of Empty Homes Premium across the whole of England EHN members can refer to our news story, which is based on CTB returns in October 2013.  Subsequently further authorities may have introduced the Premium in April 2014 - we'll find out when the 2014 CTB returns are published. To view the associated spreadsheet, you'll need to be logged in as a full member.


East London Empty Property Expo - 19th July, Barbican, London

19 Jul 2014 10:30
19 Jul 2014 17:00
Event Description: 

Supported by Empty Homes and East London boroughs and with EPOs providing a seminar session, the Expo is geared to empty homes owners. The page for visitors says:

If you own an Empty Property, this event has been launched with you in mind. We want to raise awareness of the possibilities that are at your fingertips - and help you get better returns on your investment now - by offering access to: 

  • Empty property leasing opportunities 
  • Advice from local authorities and government bodies
  • The expertise of private sector companies
  • Information on changes to Empty Property financial incentives
  • Information on how to revitalise of local shopping parades
  • Opportunities for converting empty offices into residential accommodation
With all this on offer and more, book your free tickets and come along so you can seize the opportunities and play your part in helping to improve environments, create employment and stimulate economic regeneration.
Contact details: 

Short survey seeks practitioners' views

Adrian White, a student at Plymouth University, is conducting research into housing supply, including the role that can be played by empty homes work, including conversions of redundant commercial space.

This is an interactive online suvey using Smartsurvey.  It takes just a couple of minutes to complete and you're encouraged to help Adrian by doing so.  We'll report the results in due course when Adrian has analysed them.

You can access the survey here.

Brandon Lewis new Planning and Housing Minister

Brandon Lewis

In the July government reshuffle both Nick Boles, previously responsible for planning, and Kris Hopkins, previously responsible for housing, have moved on to be replaced by Brandon Lewis who, as Minister of State, will cover both briefs.

Brandon Lewis is a barrister and company director and also served five years as Leader of Brentwood Borough Council. He is MP for Great Yarmouth.  According to 24dashnews he is close political ally of Eric Pickles so much so that, according to the site,  "in 2009, Lewis and Pickles formed an unlikely broadcasting double act. ‘The Eric and Brandon Show’ aired on obscure Essex radio station Phoenix FM...".

As local government minister in 2012 he was centrally involved in the changes to council tax exemptions and the introduction of the Empty Homes Premium and defended the premium against attack by other Conservative MPs (eg David Morris MP).  Subsequently as minister with responsibility for high streets he will have had to deal with the issue of empty commercial property and was also involved in the Transformation Fund designed to promoste shared services and other forms of modernisation in local government.

The government reshuffle is of Conservative ministers only, so Stephen Williams role as Undersecretary with responsibility for empty homes is not affected.  But whereas Kris Hopkins, with responsiblity for housing, was on the same level as Stephen Williams and therefore could have had no responsiblity for him, Brandon Lewis is clearly a more senior Minister. In the runup to the elections, the political dimension of the government actions on empty homes will start to assume more significance.  There might therefore be more interaction between the two. 

Brief details about Brandon Lewis can be found on the gov.uk site here or on his own website here.