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

Provisional New Homes Bonus figures released - empties down again

The provisional New Homes Bonus figures for 2015-16 show another 10,153 long-term empties returned to use or otherwise removed from the total recorded on the Council Tax Base returns.

The figures are accessible from the government's New Homes Bonus page and were welcomed by Stephen Williams, MP, as reported in the DCLG press release:

I’m delighted to see the number of long term empty homes going down with 100,000 being brought back into use. Today’s New Homes Bonus payments are in recognition of council-led efforts to make this happen.

But I want councils to go even further, and use the range of powers we’ve put in their hands to end the blight of empty properties in our neighbourhoods and bring them back into productive use for the families who need the stability and security new home can provide.

(The reference to 100,000 is presumably for the entire period since the current goverment was formed in 2010.)

Our own analysis of the figures (full members only) reveals:

  • Tower Hamlets received the most NHB yet again (nearly £5.5million)
  • Blackpool and Craven both saw a net reduction in the total number of dwellings and so failed to earn any NHB other than from the £350 earned through additional affordable housing
  • Westminster reduced the number of long-term empties the most (by 667) closely followed by Manchester (665) and Liverpool (597)
  • The biggest relative contribution made by reductions in the recorded numbers of long-term empties compared with additions to the overall dwelling stock was in Tunbridge Wells, where 62 long-term empties were shown as returned to use whilst the overall dwelling stock increased by only 5 units (62:5)
  • Other areas where recorded reductions in long-term empties made a big difference were Pendle (184:39), Gateshead (476:187) and Manchester (665:320).
  • The biggest increases in the number of long-term empties were recorded for Durham (+590), Croydon (+447) and Hounslow (+438).

NB The Empty Homes Network does not accept that the figures produced as part of the Council Taxbase exercise are necessarily accurate as regards the numbers of long-term empty homes. Nor do they accurately reflect the work done by councils to reduce the number of empties as many other factors play a part, including market factors outside of the control of councils.

The figures are in any case provisional and subject to revision. Final figures are expected to be released in February 2015.

EHN Christmas Quiz

In the spirit of the festive season, I have cooked up EHN's first ever Christmas quiz, featuring absolutely no prizes for the first person to submit the right answers.

 

1.      In which year did “The Great British Property Scandal” first appear on Channel 4?

A.     2010.    

B.     2011.

C.     1983.

 

2.      David Ireland was awarded what honour in the 2013 Queen’s Birthday Honours?

A.     MBE.

B.     OBE.

C.     BBies.

 

3.      17th December 2014, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for C&LG announced that the number of long term empty homes is the lowest it has been since when?

A.     2010.

B.     Records began.

C.     Time began.

 

4.      Which late Titan of the empty homes arena and the wider housing world was said to have “comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable”?

A. Jennifer Lawrence.

B. Bob Lawrence.

C. Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen.

 

5.      Who said, “This empty house is my tree, and you are my tiger” about a building off Blandford Street in London?

A.     Sherlock Holmes.

B.     Dame Kelly Holmes

C.     Barratt Homes 

 

6.      Who performed the 1985 hit, “Empty Rooms”?

A.     Gary Barlow.

B.     Garry Moore.

C.     M. Barrymore

 

7.      How many empty homes are there in the Village of Derwent?

A.  All of them.

B.  None. But there might some be in the Parish of Derwent.

C.   More than in Burnley.

 

8.      Why are all the all homes empty in the French village of Oradour-sur-Glanne?

A.     Low demand for housing.

B.     Their owners are Buy to Leave investors.

C.     They are left empty as a memorial to the Martyred Village.

 

9.      Why can’t you use an EDMO on the empty homes of Imber in Wiltshire?

A.     They have been been un-banded by the Valuation Office.

B.     They are not dwellings.

C.     They are genuinely on the market for sale or rent.

 

10.   A Tie breaker, allowing you to come up with the most enlightening answer.

Is Schrodinger’s home empty? 

(email your response direct to me on this to earn a quantum of champagne). Nick.Pritchard-Gordon@reading.gov.uk

Or add comment to this story for maximum publicity for your mad ideas.

Celebrate the Community Grants Programme in England - 19th Feb 2015

19 Feb 2015 14:00
19 Feb 2015 17:00
Event Description: 

The Impact Of The Empty Homes Community Grants Programme

New Opportunities For Community Driven Housing & Regeneration

Date: 19th February 2015       London

This event is intended to be a celebration of the achievements of those organisations that have participated in the EHCGP and an opportunity to raise awareness of the impact of the Programme  and the potential for further work of this nature, among policy makers/housing professionals/trusts & foundations/researchers & academics/ the media and across government.

Programme

  • Opening Keynote speaker Communities Minister Stephen Williams MP ( invited)
  • Professor David Mullins Birmingham University on EHCGP Research  in NE&Y&H
  • Case Studies highlighting successful projects from across England
  • Panel Discussion reflecting on the EHCGP & Future Prospects:  Panellists drawn from  Presenters/  Funders/Lenders/Local Government

Time: 2.00pm – 5.00pm

Venue:  Building Centre Store 26 Store St London W1E 7BT

On Line Booking & Full Programme To Follow

There Is no charge for this event

Contact details: 

To follow.

Celebrate the Community Grants Programme in the North East and Humberside - 26th Feb 2015

26 Feb 2015 14:00
26 Feb 2015 17:00
Event Description: 

The Impact Of The Empty Homes Community Grants Programme In The  North East and Yorks. & Humberside :

New Opportunities For Community Driven Housing & Regeneration

Date: 26th February 2015        Hull

This event is intended to be a celebration of the achievements of those organisations that have participated in the EHCGP and an opportunity to raise awareness of the impact of the Programme  and the potential for further work of this nature, among policy makers/housing professionals/trusts & foundations/researchers & academics/ the media and across government.

Programme

  • Opening Keynote speaker Communities Minister Stephen Williams MP ( invited)
  • Professor David Mullins Birmingham University on EHCGP Research  in NE&Y&H
  • Case Studies highlighting successful projects in Hull and across Yorks. & Humberside and the North East 
  • Panel Discussion reflecting on the EHCGP & Future Prospects:  Panellists drawn from  Presenters/  Funders/Lenders/Local Government

Time: 2.00pm – 5.00pm

Venue:  The Octagon Goodwin Development Trust Walker St. Hull HU3 2RA

On Line Booking & Full Programme To Follow

There Is no charge for this event

Contact details: 

To follow.

Rochdale launches loan scheme for Empty Homes Week

Loan schemes often suffer from a lack of attention to detail, leaving councils scratching their heads as to why they can't seem to give the money away.

A new scheme launched by Rochdale Council to mark Empty Homes Week is a good example of how a detailed awareness of owners' needs helps shape the product to make it attractive without at the same time squandering public money.

Rochdale has already had considerable success in its strategy for tackling empty homes, with the Council's website claiming "we have already brought 776 properties back into use in the last 3 years, reducing the number of long term empty properties from 1,819 to 1,043..".

The revamped loan scheme should help further. It leaves the owner in control, rather than requiring them to work through a housing association or other third party. Nor does it require the home to be let as affordable housing. In fact the home need not be let at all - the loan is available for owner occupation too.

But looking at the other side of the equation, in terms of making best use of public money:

  • there is a requirement for the loan to be repaid within three years
  • the first year is interest free and the following two years involve an interest rate averaging 3.75%, so the average interest rate over the 3 years is 2.5% (those who pay back earlier will of course do better). 

We understand that Rochdale has a fighting fund from which it can draw down cash for empty homes schemes such as this. But this would not prevent another authority from creating a  similar scheme by drawing on prudential borrowing. A 4-year fixed-term loan can be had from the Public Works and Loans Board at 2.06% payable on maturity of the loan.

Additionally, New Homes Bonus earned on a longer-term empty brought back into use would be worth several thousand pounds.

There is a ceiling of £15,000 and a requirement for a 20% contribution by the owner: these parameters indicate that the money will not become easily available to those who don't have two beans to rub together. This may prove a disappointment in some cases but it minimises the risk to the Council which in any case has other schemes it can offer in more extreme circumstances.

Revised draft of EHN policy position paper published

In response to members' comments in our online forum, a revised discussion draft of the EHN Policy Position paper has been published, downloadable from our library here.

To allow time for responses to the revised draft, the EHN Executive has accepted a revision of the deadline to 18th December 2014 with the expectation that the final version will be published at the beginning of 2015. The draft will also be discussed at our Executive meeting on Wednesday, 10th December.

Thanks to all those who have contributed their thoughts so far: they are listed in the latest version of the document. If you are an EHN member and would like to contribute to the discussion, please visit our policy forum and post a comment on the policy document forum topic

£52million community grants bid

Community Housing Organisations around England are calling for a further £52m from the Government, over the next three years, to bring more empty properties back into use.

The call for more financial assistance follows on from a survey conducted by self-help-housing.org with support from the Housing Associations Charitable Trust (HACT).  The survey asked recipients of grant under the Community Grants Programme to indicate how much money they were confident in being able to spend based on their previous experience and current opportunities. The survey achieved a 73% completion rate and shows a strong appetite for more funding.

Community Grants Programme

The government's Community Grants Programme had enabled small community-led organisatons to access the £150million allocated to delivering affordable housing via bringing empty homes back into use. Desipte some highly successful projects, no continuating funding has been offered. The only option currently available is for community housing organisations to team up with Registered Providers (should any be interested). The RPs could access the main 2015-18 affordable housing programme and the community-led organisations could operate as their agents in various shapes and forms.

EHN supports community housing approach

The Empty Homes Network has previously written to Stephen Williams MP, the Minister with responsibiity for the empty homes agenda, asking that at the very least the underspend from the existing programmes (introduced only after considerable delay)  should be rolled forward.This suggestion has been refused. (See story here).

Partnerships between community-led housing organisations and Registerd Providers may be valuable in their place but to insist on them as a precondition for funding is all too indicative of a mindless technocracy that is disengaged from reality on the ground.  The predictable outcome, already apparent from the outcome of the first bidding round for 2015-18 funding via the HCA, is that many excellent schemes and projects that the commuinity organisations have shown themselves capable of producing will not now be delivered.

The discontinuation of the Community Grants Programme is a kick in the teeth for the "Big Society" and the call for £52million of funding to reinstate it is entirely justified, delivering nbot just vital housing but also economic and social benefits that the community groups are particularly geared to producing.

Our own draft policy paper makes it clear that funding should be readily available for whoever is most capable of delivering the empty homes agenda. We think it essential that there are bespoke funding opportunities that match the scale and capability of community-led organisatoins.

'Do more about empty homes', government urged

New research from Halifax and the Empty Homes Agency shows how strongly the public feel about empty homes. They want the government and local authorities to do more about them. The survey by ComRes of over 2,000 people across England, Scotland and Wales revealed that

  • 78% think the Government should place a higher priority on tackling empty homes
  • 74% think their local authorites should do more to tackle empty homes
  • 36% think empty homes are a blight in their particular area

Since 2009, the Empty Homes Network has been arguing for a proper national initiative to address the issue of empty homes and it is signficant that more people thought the government should make it a higher priority than thought local councils should - although both figures were high.

Similarly, we have argued that it is necessary to have a robust and visible empty homes strategy in order to offset opposition to new housebuilding: the survey supports this view. 78% of respondents also agreed with the statement that "the goverment focuses too much on building new homes, and not enough on bringing empty homes back into use".

The strong response was doubly significant because it turns out that most people actually underestimate the numbers of empty homes with over 80% of respondents in England providing too low an estimate of the number of empties compared with the figures supplied by the Empty Homes Agency.

Support across the board

The full survey data provides analyses of responses by gender, age, social "grade", employment sector, voting intention and region. It is interesting to see how small the variations are across these different categories. Certainly, political affiliation does not seem to make a huge difference and any of the four "main" political parties (now considered to be Con., Lab., Lib-Dem., UKIP) that wants to ignore the issue would, on this evidence, be doing so against the wishes of its supporters.

For example, in response to the question about whether the government should give higher priority to tackling empty homes, the percentages of those agreeing (strongly agree, tend to agree) were

  • Con.        78%
  • Lab.         81%
  • LibDem   85%
  • UKIP        80%

The only variation worthy of note is that young people seemed less concerned about the issue than older people. So on the question just mentioned, those agreeing rose steadily from 63% in the 18-24 age group to 85% in the 65+ age group. The 18-24s also had a much higher percentage of "don't knows".

What policy?

The survey asked interesting questions about what policies an incoming government should implement. Respondents were invited to select up to 3 out of 4 policy options, with the results as follows:

  1. 66%: Making use of empty homes to help young people get on the housing ladder.
  2. 50% Committing in its first year to creating a policy that will focus on bringing long-term empty homes back into use. 
  3. 45% Making it easier for owners of un-used commercial property to turn these spaces into homes.
  4. 36% Committing to halving the number of long-term empty homes within ten years.

EHN has been emphasising the need for a strategic approach to empty homes and it is encouraging that the second option selected is the development of a policy rather than the more concrete and perhaps more immediately appealing alternatives of 3 or 4.

The second policy choice is now being highlighted by the Empty Homes Agency as the central theme of its new campaign. In the joint press release with Halifax, Helen Williams, Chief Executive of the Empty Homes Agency, is quoted as saying:

Today we are launching a campaign asking all the Westminster political parties to pledge that, if they form the next government, they will adopt a plan to tackle empty homes within their first year, as part of a wider approach to tackling housing need.

More information

The joint press release from Halifax and the Empty Homes Agency can be found on the EHA website here.

The full ComRest research can be found via our Information Library here.

There is a kind of robot youtube podcast of the Empty Homes Agency press release here.

EHN publishes discussion draft of 2014-15 policy paper

The Empty Homes Network has published the draft discussion version of its 2014-15 policy paper Filling the Empties: national commitment, local delivery. This available for comment by members and non-members alike and has been added to our Information Library and is downloadable from here.

The policy paper aims to provide practitioner input into the policy agenda on empty homes and we will be reviewing the positions of the political parties against our vision in the run-up to the 2015 election.

Previous policy statements have benefited from extensive comments by our members: your comments are welcome, either by email to admin@ehnetwork.org.uk or (if you are an EHN member) by commenting against the forum post.

The deadline for comments is 8th December 2014.