Empty Homes Network

Kent No Use Empty 10th Anniversary Celebration - 2nd December

2 Dec 2015
Event Description: 

No Use Empty celebrates 10 Year Anniversary
during national Empty Homes Week 2015

The 2015 national Empty Homes Week will take place Monday 30th November through to Sunday 6th  December 2015.

Empty Homes Week is all about community-led organisations, local authorities and others holding events and putting out information to celebrate local achievements in bringing empty homes back into use and also to set out their future plans and the case for making the most of empty properties to meet housing needs.

Kent County Council will celebrate 10 years of No Use Empty - the award winning and longest running Empty Property initiative in the UK - on 2 December 2015 with an event at County Hall.

All 12 district councils in Kent will come together to join in the celebrations to look back
on our achievements to date and hear about how we will be taking No Use Empty
 forward into 2016 and beyond!

No Use Empty will be pleased to welcome Helen Williams, Chief Executive of the national campaigning charity Empty Homes, who is our confirmed guest speaker.

A new Bumper Edition Newsletter to celebrate 10 Years of No Use Empty
will be available on line after the event.

Let Empty Homes know more about what you are planning for the week, or to discuss our plans please email: policy@emptyhomes.com

Cumbria Empty Homes Event - Carlisle, 4th December

4 Dec 2015 09:30
4 Dec 2015 13:30
Event Description: 

Cumbria Empty Homes Event

Carlisle City Council, Civic Centre, Carlisle, CA3 8QG

Friday 4 December 2015, 9.30am - 1.30pm

We’d like to give you the opportunity to attend a FREE event, organised to coincide with National Empty Homes Week.

We want to offer solutions that will bring long term empty properties back into use. The event will include presentations from key speakers, including the Chief Executive of the Empty Homes Agency, Helen Williams. The programme will include:

  • Tax savings solutions
  • Options on selling or renting out properties
  • What Carlisle City Council is doing about the city’s empty homes
  • Campaigns and projects that are reducing the number of empty homes.

There will be an opportunity to meet with advisors and discuss solutions. Refreshments will also be provided.

The event has been organised by Carlisle City Council and is supported by Saint & Co Accountants, Auction House Cumbria, Ad Hoc Property Solutions, Shelter Scotland and the Empty Homes Agency 

Places are limited so please confirm your booking by contacting housing@carlisle.gov.uk by no later than Monday 30 November 2015.

David Sanderson
Empty Property Officer
Private Sector Housing
Economic Development
Carlisle City Council

Contact details: 


Other EHN members welcome.

Lewis 'no' to EHN offer to build empty homes strategy

Following a letter we sent to Rt Hon. Greg Clark, MP, Secretary of State for Local Government and Communities, the Empty Homes Network has now received a response from Brandon Lewis, MP, Minister of State for Housing and Planning.

In our letter, we had offered the collective expertise and experience of EHN as a resource to help the government develop its empty homes strategy and invited the Secretary of State to consider our Spending Review submission. In our final paragraph, we emphasised the role that the government could play in supporting local initiatives and sought a meeting to discuss ways forward:

What then also needs to be grasped is that, in the era of localism, central government can play a vital role in adding value to local initiatives. We would appreciate the opportunity to help you engage with that role by discussing in more detail some of our proposals.  If you are minded to accept our offer, could we arrange to meet you to discuss this?

The reply from Brandon Lewis essentially said that the government was not going to provide any further funding for empty homes initiatives and that the whole issue was now a local matter, which the government was supporting via a combination of New Homes Bonus and Empty Homes Premium. As regards the previous programme of capital funding to tackle empty homes, the Minister commented that "this funding was only intended to provide a push in the right direction and we will not be providing any more."  He also emphasised the role of Britain's "strong" economy which he claimed had created "a buoyant housing market, where more owners are bringing empty homes back into use without the need for Government action".

Although this response is not surprising, it is still disappointing.

Full Members can view our letter to Greg Clark and the response from Brandon Lewis. You'll need to be logged in to view them and have the appropriate permissions.

Our Spending Review Submission is available to all.

Birmingham research spells out the benefits of Community Grants Programme

New research from David Mullins and Halima Sacranie at the School of Social Policy, Birmingham University, spells out in detail the achievements of community housing organisations funded through the government's Community Grants Programme for empty homes.

The clearly-written 150+-page report (accessible via our information library from here) is the outcome of high-quality research using a variety of methodologies and its main recommendations, listed below, are thoroughly documented. If you are interested in what makes things work well, the report is essential reading.


The recommendations are as follows:

  1. Extract Key Learning From Case Studies: Undertake research to inform sector legacy work by extracting key learning from these case studies and building on the scenarios above to support future sector sustainability.
  2. Maintain Regional Networks: Continue to share learning within the sector through support for SHHO and regional networks such as Leeds, Hull and Tees Valley.
  3. Introduce New Public Grants Programme: Introduce a new public grants programme particularly targeted on smaller community based and new entrants and on achieving social value.
  4. Expand the role of Social Investors & Charitable Foundations: Continue to expand contribution of social investors and charitable foundations to supplement grant and commercial loan income.
  5. Facilitate New Entrants Into Empty Homes Work: Seek new entrants from local community anchor and other social enterprise type organisations able to contribute to and capable of benefiting from empty homes work.

Future research

As recommendation 1 indicates, there is still plenty to be learned from the experience gained through the EHCGP.  It will be useful if future research shows more clearly the profile of the organisations that were funded and the impact of the funding relative to their previous size.  But meanwhile there is plenty of substance to savour and it would be difficult to improve on the summary provided by Mullins and Sacranie in their Foreword to the report, reproduced here by kind permission of the authors:

When endorsing the decision of the Coalition Government to fund the Empty Homes Community Grants Programme (EHCGP) in 2011, Liberal Democrat Housing Minister, Andrew Stunell signed up to ‘building a longer term legacy’ in which the number of community-led organisations increases and they have better access to funding and loans, better partnerships with LAs and housing providers, are better networked, more sustainable and have a better understood business model. (DCLG Press Release November 2011).

This research in the North East and Yorkshire and Humberside finds that EHCGP has indeed left a legacy in these regions of nearly 30 locally based organisations with a track record of bringing some 750 empty properties back into use for over 1,500 residents. These organisations now have the capacity and aspiration to bring many more back over future years with a wide range of social outcomes from community safety, accredited construction apprenticeships, and better homes accessible to those least able to access them in the market or through social housing.

Some have now succeeded in registration with the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) thanks to the track record built under the EHCGP. Many more who do not wish to register as large scale housing providers have indicated that if funding similar to EHCGP were to become available in future years they would be keen to develop at a similar level of output. The purchase and repair option has enabled many of these organisations to acquire assets with benefits to their balance sheet, income streams and long term sustainability. Already some organisations have used this asset base to borrow to expand the scope of their activity and to leverage funds equivalent to over four times the value of the grant itself. The lease and repair option has also given organisations a longer term income stream. On some occasions property owners have paid back the repair costs over a period alongside management fees to enable the organisations to reinvest this income in longer term service development.

The programme has certainly contributed to the viability of construction teams through enhanced workflow. This has enabled richer and longer-term training experience to be offered to trainees and apprentices. In one case this had enabled the organisation to grow from 10 six month traineeships in 2010 to 18 staff and three levels of experience, with ten trainees beyond NVQ2, five apprenticeships, and 3 trade team leads reporting to the same construction manager five years later. The qualitative differences in the training experience offered were captured by an apprentice joiner excited by the challenge of installing a new staircase into a three storey townhouse.

EHCGP has delivered excellent value for money, making a small amount of grant go a long way, attracting further funding including grants, soft loans, social finance and conventional bank lending. Financial leverage has been estimated at between 50p to £1 for every £ of grant across the programme based on a survey with a 59% response. In one case leverage reached £4.5 of spend from all sources for every one pound of EHCGP grant, and 2.5 homes improved for every one funded under EHCGP. Benefits to tenants, volunteers, the wider community and third parties have been estimated in one case to deliver between £3.24 and £5 of social value for every £ invested depending on the assumptions. While the methods and assumptions used in such quantifications of benefit may be disputed there is no doubting the real benefits enjoyed by participants who converged on the view that EHCGP had been ‘the best thing’.

But EHCGP has not just been about value for money and bettering that offered by large scale procurement models. It has demonstrated the value of local knowledge in negotiating deals with owners of empty homes and local trust in securing programme participation from long term unemployed people. It has rewarded volunteering by providing routes into training, work and housing for people initially joining in litter picks and garden clearances and intrinsic rewards of ‘seeing when it’s all finished and somebody moves into that property and you know that all the volunteers have done a bit to help…..’. It has provided solutions to ‘wicked problems’ tackling property abandonment, blight and associated anti-social behaviour; offering housing options to those excluded from the mainstream including ex-offenders, people with mental health issues and for single people in work without homeless priority or resources to access decent private rentals.

Over and above these tangible benefits, the legacy being built by EHCGP is that of a grass roots housing sector, occupying the niches once served by fledgling housing associations, interested in individual properties and streetscapes, working with local people to craft tailored solutions to difficult and messy problems. A distinctive feature of this sector found in several parts of the region covered in this study, in Leeds, in the Tees Valley and in Hull, is the development of a collaborative culture of peer learning and mutual support in which new entrants are welcomed and enabled to grow as part of the sector. As one longer established organisation put it ‘We’ve worked with these organisations to help build the infrastructure and look at things like bidding for grants and meeting each other and going to visit schemes; good old-fashioned community building’.

Reading this report it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that a legacy has indeed been built. Something important to but recently missing from the third sector housing scene in England is being recreated. A gap in the market is being filled and new opportunities fashioned for ‘good old fashioned community building’ to take place. The magic of housing as both a physical asset and a source of rental income is being rediscovered as a basis for sustainable community-led action in a period in which organisations dependent on revenue support have found survival an increasing problem. Learning from this programme connects well with BSHF’s wider work on Global Habitat and exemplifies ‘can do’ approaches that are practical, sustainable and transferrable and that should contribute to a ‘new social urbanism’. © 2015  


Bedroom tax as a cause of homes standing empty - Liverpool HA acts

The effect of the bedroom tax on lettings of social housing has occasionally surfaced. This story provides evidence that in some housing markets the effect is real.

Liverpool £1 house scheme - Garrick Street story

The tanker is slowly turning in the direction of homesteading, five years after the HMII was abandoned.

Big Issue feature article on empty homes

Big Issue launches Fill 'em Up campaign

This is primarily a lobbying campaign, although the Big Issue is also involved in financing community-led empty homes projects in London following a deal with the Mayor.

The key areas that BI wants to promote are:

  • More support and funding for community-led empty homes projects
  • More public bodies engaging with community projects ready and willing to make the most of empty buildings
  • More homeless people getting the chance to work on refurbishment projects

Houses to Homes outcomes - BBC news report

This report cites the views of the Lib Dems (who originally introduced Houses to Homes) as well as the current Welsh Government. As is so often the case there is a s dispute about the significance of the figures.

Final Houses to Homes report shows value of Welsh scheme

Houses to Homes evaluation report front cover

Sheffield Hallam University has now produced its final evaluation of the Welsh Houses to Homes initiative, highlighting its successes and offering recommendations to build on the experience to date.

Headline figures

The headline news from the Welsh goverment perspective has been that its target of bringing 5000 long-term homes back into use during the term of the Parliament has already been exceeded long before the deadline of March 2016. The triumphant press release reported that 7,560 homes had been returned to use as a result of the scheme.

The evaluation report does not make much of this figure, because its focus is primarily on the Houses to Homes loans scheme, into which the Welsh Government has pumped £20million since 2012. According to the Sheffield Hallam figures, only 144 homes had been returned to use direcctly via the loans scheme at the point when the data was collected for the report. The huge difference between this and the 7560 claimed by the Welsh Government is explained by the two organisations meaning different things when they talk about "Houses to Homes", with the government figures referring to all the long-term empties brought back into use by local authorities via any mechanism since the inception of the scheme, rather than simply via the loans scheme itself.

There is a relationship between the two figures, however, as the Evaluation Report amply documents: the loans scheme provided renewed impetus to the work to tackle empty homes across the principality. In practice this meant greater outreach to empty homes owners, more resources devoted to empty homes work, more training for practitioners, and the development of regional organisations to share good practice and push the initiative along.

Taking a closer look

The Evaluation Report contains an excellent summary which should be required reading for engaged practitioners and which makes it unnecessary to rehearse all the salient points here. But some aspects require further analysis and interpretation.

Returning to the figures mentioned above, the Evaluation Report does identify a significant increase in successful outcomes arising from local authority interventions since the initiative was launched, with figures for the four years as follows:

2011-12 is the baseline, before the scheme was launched; most of 2012-13 was taken up with marketing the loans scheme, building organisational structures such as the regional forums, and recruiting and training staff, so that only in 2013-14 were the positive results flowing through.  

The figures have to be regarded with a degree of caution because they rely on a poorly defined performance measure (PR04) which lacks the clear guidelines developed by EHN for the comparable indicator once used in England. Nevertheless, taken alongside strong anecdotal evidence from local authority officers, it seems reasonable to regard the improved outcomes as genuine and to attribute them to the Houses to Homes initiative in the broadest sense.

It is noteworthy that there was a significant reduction in the number of direct actions in 2014-15 compared with the previous year, although the number of successful outcomes was higher. Regrettably, based on the anecdotal evidence in the report, the reduction in direct actions by local authorities reflects the diminishing momentum of the scheme, another all-too-familiar stop-go story. One might expect to see a reduction in the number of successful outcomes in 2015-16 as a result.   Fortunately, the continued availability of funding should ensure that this is a relative decline from a peak to a somewhat lower plateau rather than a total collapse. We can expect to see continuing benefits from the scheme.

The distance between the higher and the lower figures also helps highlight the value of developing a broad empty homes strategy rather than focusing solely on one measure like loans. The loans scheme provided the backbone for the overall initiative, but the positive outcomes (as in Kent) reflect a wider range of interventions. It is worth quoting the summary at some length on this subject as it is critical to understanding what it means to have a "strategy":

1.16 The majority of local authority empty homes officers attributed the increase in properties brought back into use each year since the launch of Houses into Homes to the introduction of the scheme. In total, 20 out of 22 officers reported that the scheme had resulted in an increase in the number of long-term empty homes brought back into use in 2014/15 as a result of direct actions by the local authority. In addition, 15 out of 22 officers reported that Houses into Homes had resulted in an increase in the total number of empty non-residential properties brought back into use as accommodation.

1.17 Regional coordinators and local authority officers were unequivocal in their view that Houses into Homes brought numerous benefits in its wake, which helped to increase the number of empty properties brought back into use. These were reported to include increased corporate commitment to tackling the problem of empty homes, increased staffing (particularly in the first two years of the scheme), an improvement in the effectiveness of local authority efforts to bring properties back into use, and support for efforts to address other strategic priorities (for example, increasing the supply of affordable housing, supporting regeneration initiatives and generating employment).

Rome not re-occupied in a day

The surprisingly low figure of 140 dwellings re-occupied since the scheme was launched is another indicator of the time lag between initiation and successful outcome. The report documents a much larger number of units where work was in progress. 360 (or 361 - the figure seems to vary) loans had been approved and another 82 were being processed by the end of March 2015. The lesson to be learned is that schemes such as this deserve plenty of time to bed in and produce results.  Fortunately the Welsh Government has been clear about the merits of what it has been doing and has made further funding available (though on different terms).  This more strategic approach compares favourably with the half-hearted stab at a strategy (if one can even dignifiy it with the term)  in England over 2012-15. 

One reason why the outcomes would take longer to arrive is that many of the projects involved properties that had been empty for a considerable period of time:

This said, the report does provide a fair amount of anecdotal evidence from both practitioners and owners/developers that some of loan procedures were too long-winded or staff insufficiently experienced or knowledgeable to deal with some scenarios that arose: there seems to be scope for improvements.

Flawed cost-benefit analysis

Among the more disappointing aspects of the Evaluation Report is the flawed cost-benefit analysis of the loan scheme.  It discounts many of the successes based on the responses of the owners who said they would have proceeded anyway. This is probably fair enough. But it also ignores all the future benefits of the scheme through the recycling of the loans. As far as the cost-benefit analysis is concerned the loans are effectively grants. The report notes:

Finally the analysis has not discounted [sic] future benefits due to uncertainty about when benefits will accrue.[1]

Elsewhere in the report, the authors were prepared to extrapolate from one set figures to arrive at another, and there is ample evidence from Kent about, for example, the level of bad debts that could have been used to make projections for the Welsh scheme. This could have been on the basis that money was to be recycled into further loans, producing far more on the "benefits" side.  As a bare minimum alternative, it would have been possible to estimate that x% of the loans would be repaid, allowing a net cost rather than a gross cost to be factored into the analysis, thereby significantly reducing the "cost" side of the equation. 

In the absence of either of these calculations the cost-benefit analysis becomes largely meaningless in the real world of recycling loans.  It would seem advisable for the Welsh Government to commission the small amount of extra research needed to produce more realistic figures that would take loan repayments and/or recycling of the loan fund into account, and in the process do the scheme justice.

You can access the full report via our information library here.

Some apects of the scheme are also discussed in EHN news stories about previous evaluation reports eg:

Your further comments and observations are welcome.


[1] This seems to be include a typo: either the "not" shouldn't be there or the  "dis" in discounted should not be present.  The fact is that future benefits were not taken into account.