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

£10million more for Wales Houses to Homes scheme

The Welsh Draft Budget for 2015-16 adds yet another £10million to the Houses to Homes loans initiative, bringing the total to £30million since the inception of the scheme.

The Draft Budget notes:

Financial transactions funding of £10m in 2015-16 to expand investment in this scheme to over £30m since its launch in 2012. This successful initiative has already delivered almost 500 residential units and leveraged an additional £7.8m of private sector funding to bring empty homes in Wales back into use and increasing the supply of housing across Wales.

The next evaluation report for the scheme, authored by Sheffield Hallam University, is due within the next couple of months and is expected to demonstrate the continuing success of the loans scheme.

When is "an empty home" not an empty home?

This is a blog post from the Leeds Empties site - but hopefully of interest to EHN members.

 

Most of us will have an idea of what we expect an “empty home” to look like. It’ll probably be boarded up.  It might have rubbish in the front garden.  There may be grass growing in the guttering.  In short, it’ll look a right mess, and will be having a negative impact on the neighbourhood.

So what if we suggested that out of around 5000 long-term empty homes in Leeds  (the actual figure varies depending on exactly how you count – but we’ll stick with this round figure for now), perhaps only 500 are like this?  We’ve been working on empty homes for three years now –  and like most people, when we started we had strong preconceptions of what “empty homes” were.  The empty homes we’d spotted were the boarded up ones – and then we were told there were 5000 empty homes.  So we assumed there were lots more, just like those, spread across the city.

As is often the case, we’ve since found out that it’s a bit more complex than that.  That’s not to say that it’s any less of an issue – it’s just perhaps a slightly different issue to the one we might think it is.

So we’d like to share with you some reflections on what we’ve come across over the last couple of years – different situations, different “types” of empty home – which together paint a different picture to the one you might be accustomed to.  In future posts, we’ll explore the implications of this for future strategies to bring more empty homes back into use – both in Leeds and across the UK.  We’ll also outline the kind of situations where we think we can be of most use.

What is a long-term empty home?

A home is defined as a “long-term empty home” when it’s been unoccupied for six months.  Empty homes statistics are gathered from Council Tax records – so are reliant on people giving accurate information about their property to Council Tax.  The data, it would seem to us, was more reliable in the past as there used to be a financial incentive to contact the council when your home became empty – as a discount on Council Tax used to be offered.  This discount no longer exists – so it’s likely that there are empty homes in Leeds which aren’t currently recorded as empty.  Similarly, it’s possible that there are occupied homes that are currently recorded as empty homes (as the occupant/owner hasn’t informed Council Tax of the change in circumstances, as they were already paying full Council Tax).

So, as you can see, the stats can be a bit complicated.  Most of the time, at Leeds Empties, we don’t worry too much about the detailed stats – other than to acknowledge that there are lots of empty homes – and we want to bring back into use as many as we can.

For now, let’s take the 5000 figure, as it won’t be far wrong, and it’s a nice round number.  Let’s start to look at the “types” of empty home that make up that 5000.

Please note that all of this is based on our experiences – rather than detailed analysis of data.  So in some cases, we may be wrong – and our guesses on numbers might in some cases be wide of the mark – but after 3 years working on empty homes we’re pretty confident about what we’re saying here.  

Homes Sold (Subject To Contract), For Sale, To Let or under renovation

It’s worth recognising that a good number of “empty homes” are in the process of being rented out or sold, or are under refurbishment.  When we’ve focused on particular areas, such as LS28,  we’ve found that around 25% of long-term empty homes fall into this category.  Sometimes we can help (for example we’ve helped people to consider alternative estate agents or letting agents) but more often than not, the thing that will sort out most of the homes in this category is time.

So, we’d suggest around 1250 of the 5000 “empty homes” are currently unoccupied for a pretty good reason – and in most cases, they’ll be occupied again sooner rather than later.

Problematic empty homes

Of the 5000 empty homes, we’d guess there may be 500 that look like how you might expect an empty home to look.  The windows may be boarded up.  The garden may be overgrown.  Typically they’ve been empty for at least two years.  The adjacent house may be suffering from damp, or vermin.  In one-way or another, the home is causing problems.

These homes are the ones primarily dealt with by the council’s Empty Homes Team.  They’ll engage with the owner to encourage them to bring the house back into use, and they’ll threaten – and take – enforcement action where appropriate.  This can include doing work in default (e.g. tidying up an overgrown garden and charging it to the owner) through to compulsory purchase.

We deal with some homes like this, and have had some successes – but such problematic empties tend to be the focus of the council’s team.

At a guess, we’d say that homes like this account for around 10% – or 500 of the 5000 empty homes in Leeds.

Empty homes that are difficult to rent out

There are some empty homes where it’s hard to work out a way forward.  For example the data on Leeds Data Mill suggests there are around 20 pubs in Leeds with vacant accommodation above the pub.  It’s likely to be difficult to rent that accommodation out to a third party.  Similarly, lots of shops, particularly on suburban shopping parades, have flats above them, which can sometimes be difficult to rent out separately.

There are also homes that are perhaps undesirable – such as basement flats in terraced houses that have been converted into six bedsits – something you see a lot of in inner-city areas such as Cross Green, where we are based.  Again, Leeds Data Mill suggests there are a number of terraced houses that have been split into flats/bedsits, where some of the flats have been empty for some time.  (And remember, a “home” in this context can be a bedsit or a flat, as well as a house.)

At a guess, we’d say there are 200 homes that would fall into this category.

Zombie empties

This is a term we came up with for empty homes that were typically bought as buy-to-let investments, in inner-city Leeds, between around 2003 and 2007.  After the financial crisis hit in 2007, the value of many of these houses fell.  A number subsequently became empty, and whilst the owners typically can afford to pay the mortgage, they often can’t afford to invest in the property to bring it back into use.

They also are unable or unwilling to sell, as the sale value would not cover their outstanding mortgage.  So the homes stand empty – with nothing likely to happen until the owner either stops paying their mortgage (so the home is eventually repossessed) or the house value rises back to where it was and the owner can either sell or borrow to undertake renovations.

In some cases, we have worked with owners to help them to explore lease-and-repair schemes – where a third party (in the cases we worked on, a social enterprise) offers to lease the property, do repairs and bring it back into use  - with their investment being repaid through rental income.  We have been successful in arranging one such scheme, but in the majority of cases, either the owner or their lender has refused to pursue this option further.

At a guess, we would suggest there are 150 zombie empties, primarily in inner-city postcodes.

Empty homes owned by companies in administration

There is data available on Leeds Data Mill about empty homes owned by Limited Companies.  We’ve done some analysis of this data which suggests that at least 25 empty homes in Leeds are owned by companies in administration.  We suspect at least another 50 are owned by companies which are not currently trading.

From previous experience, we’d expect many of these homes to be sold at auction by the administrators.  However, it’s possible that this could take some time.  A number of the homes owned by companies in administration have already been empty for more than two years.

So we’d suggest homes owned by companies in administration/not currently trading account for approximately 75 of Leeds 5000 long term empty homes.

Unsold houses and flats in new developments

Looking through the data on Leeds Data Mill, we identified a number of flats and houses which appear to still be owned by the original developer.  It’s hard to tell for sure, but we think there are at least 50 such properties.  Without looking into the detail, we can’t tell exactly what is happening with these properties, but we’d assume that they are slowly being released to the market, and as such, will eventually be lived in.   We’re told that there were far more homes that would fit into this category three or four years ago – when there were more unsold city-centre flats.

Other empty homes owned by companies

Leeds Data Mill data suggests there are 400 long-term empty homes owned by limited companies in Leeds.  We’ve accounted for some of these above – such as those owned by companies in administration, by pub companies, or by the original developers, but it leaves at around 250 more which are owned by companies, for a host of different reasons.  Without contacting the companies directly, it’s difficult to speculate on the reasons why they have properties which are long-term empty.

“Buy-to-leave” investors

This has traditionally been seen as an issue primarily in London and the South East – with investors buying properties, leaving them empty, and then selling them for a significant profit at a later date.

Whilst it isn’t such a big problem in Leeds, we suspect that a number of homes are left empty in Leeds by owners who have no medium-term plans to either live in the property themselves, or rent it out.

We have come across long-term empty properties, particularly in more affluent suburbs of Leeds, which we suspect are owned by “buy-to-leave” investors.

In some cases, the homes are ready to live in, or require only minimal refurbishment work.  In such cases we suspect the owner has made a considered decision to do nothing, and wait for the value of the house to rise.  In other cases, we suspect that people have bought a home for cash, as an alternative investment to low-yielding savings – but do not have further cash to invest in the property.

Of course, people are free to leave a home empty as long as they pay council tax and the house doesn’t cause problems for neighbours – but the wider societal impact of treating housing as an investment in this way is that a decent home is not available for other people to rent or buy.

It’s hard to estimate how many homes fall into this category, but we’d suspect there may be around 150 such properties in Leeds, mostly in the more affluent suburbs.

So, we estimate that the “types” of empty home that we outline above account for around half of the long-term empty homes that we have in Leeds.  They’re unoccupied, at a time when there is severe pressure on current housing stock, and plans to build 70,000 more homes by 2028.  But they’re probably not what you might think of as “empty homes”.

This has implications for our work – and the work others do across the country – to bring empty homes back into use.  An approach that will work for the owner of a boarded up home will be very different to one that will engage someone who’s happy to do nothing and see the value of the house they own rise over time.  We don’t have answers to this yet – but it’s the kind of thing we’re thinking about carefully as we explore how to expand what we do, so we can help to bring back into use more long-term empty homes.

Office-to-residential conversions have variable impact nationwide

Research by the Local Government Association seems to indicate that the relaxation of the planning regime around conversion of offices to residential use has had a varibale impact around the country.

A significant proportion of responses highlighted the predictable negative effects such as displacement of businesses, absence  of contributions to  affordable housing  and infrastructure. But it is a surprise that the negative responses were not higher.

22 questions were sent electronically to Heads of Planning Services and the 29% response rate itself perhaps indicates a relatively low level  of concern  in many areas. It would have been interesting to see the breakdown of respondents by type of authority or area but this information is not reported. 9% of authorities had received no "prior approval" notifications and another 42% between 1 and 10 - so over 50% of respondents were dealing with fewer than 10 such schemes. But 4%  were responding to between 100 and 139 schemes while a further authority was dealing  with 210 schemes. 4  of these authorities  were London Boroughs, perhaps driven by very high  London property values, and one was in the  East of England.

Empty or  occupied?

One of the big questions about the prior approval regime for conversions, and the one of most relevance to empty homes  practitioners, is whether the buildings in question are occupied or empty. A surprising 41% said they didn't know.  This indicates that the government is not asking local authorities to monitor this important aspect of the measure which will hinder an objective assessment of its impact.

Of those wtho did know,  it seems that 27% said that over 50% of  the applications concerned premises that had  some element of occupation; and the figures indicated that the more applications were received by a particular authority, the more likely it would be for a higher percentage to be occupied. This makes sense - both figures suggest a stronger drive towards conversions.

Scale of schemes

There were signifcant  differences between the scale of the conversions. Towards one end of the scale schemes in an authority that saw approval granted  for 1,485 new units approved had an average of 23 units per prior approval (indicating just under 70 schemes); yet in another authority, the high  number of 121 schemes approved only equated to 264 units, at just over 2 per  prior approval.   It would have been interesting if this data had been collected so as to allow analysis into percentiles of scheme size to see whether the averages were distorted by outliers.

Affordable Housing

In total, the report suggests that 3,107 affordable units had been lost nationwide because of the permitted development rights. In reality,  the number is likely to be significantly lower as the 3,107 is presumably predicated on the policy requirement for affordable housing, whilst developers are currently driving a cart and horses through such policies on the back of the ubiquitous viability assessments. The combination of existing  use values and costs of conversion works would in any case tend to create problems around achieving the full  policy quota, even in a more favourable climate. In the circumstances it is not altogether surprising that only half of the respondents agreed that the permitted development regime had reduced contributions to affordable housing.

Overall impact

There was a surprisingly muted response to the overall  impact. For example:

"One in four tended to agree that the PDO had reduced the availability of office space within the local area".

It is  difficult to see how it could have done anything else but reduce the availability of office space: perhas the question was interpreted along the lines of whether it mattered (eg low grade space in low demand).  Similarly, as  regards the number of residential units created:

"Seven per cent strongly agreed and 28 tended to agree that it has increased the number, compared to 31 per cent who did not"

For those who suggested that it had not increased the number of residential units, one can only assume the respondents believed that planning permission would have been forthcoming anyway. But that does not look like the picture in the London Boroughs, which were collectively strongly resistant to the measure. It would  be have been interesting to see the responses here cross-tabulated with the numbers of units or schemes being put forward.

The  LGA press release on the research can be accessed here. The research itself is downloadable from the same page.

RICS survey

Elsewhere, a separate survey by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, reported in the Financial Times indicated that the conversions definitely are reducing the availability  of office space:

But the new rules are disproportionately affecting economically successful areas such as London and the south east where house prices far outpace the value of even high-quality office stock, RICS found.

In the south of England a third of those surveyed by RICS said that conversions to housing were having a substantial impact on the availability of commercial stock in their area. Nationally, the figure was 18 per cent.

Another FT story reports that Boris Johnson has teamed up with the British Property Federation and others to write to Eric Pickles to request that key London business areas continue to be exempted from the permitted development regime.

The tanker turns - Lloyds Group to accept leasing

The Lloyds Group has made a strategic decision to allow its borrowers to put their homes into leasing schemes. This is a victory for common sense and is the culmination of a significant effort by the Empty Homes Network and by influential people within the bank itself.

The decision by the governing powers within the bank will take a while to filter through to all the operational levels - the analogy with turning round an oil tanker is a fair one given the size of the bank - but the process is underway. And because the bank is so large, with over 25% of the UK mortgage market, the significance of this move is correspondingly greater. It establishes a reference point within the mortgage market that will influence others. 

Meanwhile Lloyds Group banks - including major players such as Halifax - can utilise this new flexibility to promote their products: borrowers can see that their loans are being future-proofed against changes of circumstance that might involve them wanting to lease their homes. 

Partnership response

It is now over 18 months since EHN initated a meeting with the Council of Mortgage Lenders to attempt to address the issue of borrowers from all banks being refused consent to lease their homes to social housing providers, or terms being imposed (such as unacceptably short lease terms) that would make such arrangements impossible for the providers to sign up to.

Since then, Mark Fisher and Darryl Lawrence (EHN Executive members) have met with interested parties on the lender side on several occasions, for example addressing the CML-organised Buy-to-Let meetings. David Gibbens (EHN Policy Lead) joined them in liaising with CML and DCLG and produced a Briefing for lenders that was referenced by Don Foster (then Minister for empty homes) in answer to questions posed by concerned MPs.  And, importantly, within Lloyds itself Michael Vennard, who spoke at the EHN-organised Empty Homes Conference in May 2014, has promoted the commonsense view that has finally led to the adoption of a pragmaticpolicy around leasing. His involvement has been crucial.

So this has been a co-operative effort, but one in which EHN can rightly take the credit for being the prime mover.

EHN members can help implement the new policy by referring any refusals through to admin@ehnetwork.org.uk . We will pass them on, and this will help Lloyds identify any operational obstacles to implementation.

Picture credits: Royal Navy Media Archive. Some rights reserved under Creative Commons licence. Original photo Flickr.

Government issues guidance on definitions of empty homes and second homes

The Department of Communities and Local Government has issued a letter to clarify the definitions of empty homes and second homes.  The letter, signed by Hülya Mustafa, a Deputy Director for Council Tax, seems to have been prompted by concerns about avoidance, whereby otherwise empty homes have furniture put in them specifically to avoid the Empty Homes Premium.

Incidence of avoidance

The letter is keen to point out that there is little evidence for people introducing furniture into properties to avoid paying the Empty Homes Premium. Anecdotal evidence from around the country generally seems to support that view but members with different experience or concrete data to report are encouraged to add a Comment to this story accordingly. You'll need to log in to do so.

Who decides

As regards the meanings of "unoccupied" and "substantially unfurnished" the letter emphasises the central role of local authorities' views along with the views of any court that might decide on the issue, and indicates that the courts would treat the matter on its own merits, as "a matter of fact", rather than deferring to the government's guidance. 

In adopting this position, DCLG is not being evasive: this can be considered the normal and appropriate government stance in circumstances where there is no statutory guidance or any powers to issue such guidance.Were it to do more, it could rightly be criticised for over-stepping the limits of executive authority.

Criteria

As far as it goes, the specific government advice on determining whether a dwelling is  "substantiallly unfurnished" and/or unoccupied runs as follows:

A property which is substantially unfurnished is unlikely to be occupied or be capable of occupation. A property which is capable of occupation can reasonably be expected to contain some, if not all, items from both of the following categories: furniture such as bed, chairs, table, wardrobe or sofa, and white goods such as fridge, freezer or cooker.

Where a property is said to be occupied it will be reasonable for the local authority to cross-check with the electoral roll , or ask for evidence, such as utility bills showing usage of services, driving licence as proof of address, or receipts or other proof of moving costs.

Reference is made to other guidance but the letter does not contain hyperlinks to the documents mentioned such as the advisory notes related to properties for letting or for sale (accessible via our library here).

Penalties

As regards tax evasion rather than tax avoidance, the letter points out that there are civil penalties attached to people deliberately  supplying false information. Under the council tax legislation there is a fixed civil penalty of £50.  It also notes that the Theft Act 1968 applies to council tax though it does not elaborate as no doubt the position will be clear to those in Council Tax departments who are presumably the target readership. The following notes from LB of Merton spell it out:

The Theft Act 1968 also applies to Council Tax where a person presents information which they know to be false with a view to obtaining a financial benefit to which they are not entitled. You could be subject to prosecution for obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception.

EHN emerging policy

The letter expresses the current position as seen through government eyes. But what would be the preferred position? EHN policy, as elaborated to date though not formally adopted, would be as follows:

  • drop the distinction between second homes and empty homes by removing the criterion around the presence of furniture
  • therefore distinguish only between homes that are occupied as someone's main residence and homes that are not (the latter could be "second homes" or "empty homes")
  • apply Empty Homes Premium after 1 year not 2 and at a rate of up to 100%
  • apply EHP to all homes that are not primary residences - thus "second homes" too.

In addition, we would expect to support a tighter definition of "occupied as a main residence". The current definition of 6 weeks occupation, i.e. 42 days over a period of 2 years would mean the property would need to be occupied for just under 6% of the time to avoid the Premium.  In the context of incentivising best use of our housing stock that seems too small and we would suggest that the period is increased to 3 months.  If the qualifying time were reduced to 1 year, then that would represent a "25% occupancy" criterion, hardly draconian.

You can access the letter via our library from here.

Best Local Authority / Community Housing Organisation Partnership Award 2014

This partnership award was the final one to be presented in our Empty Homes Awards 2014 ceremony, (ceremony sponsored by Grafton UK Ltd).

It was a new award, sponsored jointly by Habitat for Humanity and self-help-housing.org (with support from the Housing Association Charitable Trust) and the competition was fierce - so fierce in fact that the judges had great difficulty in pulling out a winner.  Eventually it was decided to declare joint winners, withe honours shared between the Hull Empty Homes Partnership and Rochdale Borough Council and Groundwork.  And the panel also recognised the submisson of Emmaus Salford and Salford City Council with a "Highly Commended" award.

On this page:

So to the submissions:

Hull's Empty Homes Partnership

Background

Hull Empty Homes Partnership was established in 2012 in response to the government’s launch of funding to tackle empty homes. The partnership originally included five community sector organisations and Hull City Council. The initial aim of the partnership was to maximise the funding achieved to tackle the exceptionally high levels of private sector empty homes in the city. Recognising the far-reaching benefits of tackling empty properties, Hull City Council supported all community partner bids through the community route, as well as submitting its own bids through the Registered Provider routes.

Upon news of all organisations succeeding in their bids, the partnership continued into the delivery of the schemes. The partnership included Giroscope; WINNER; PANDA; DISC; Probe; and Hull City Council. Regular meetings were established and all partners committed to the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding (available at Appendix 1).

Following successful delivery under round 1, with more than 80 units achieved in the first year, the Council, four of the original partners and one new partner successfully bid to round 2 of the Empty Homes Programme. Goodwin Community Housing then joined which completed the partnership and the seven organisations continue to work together today. Each organisation has its own social aims and operates in specific localities. Detailed information on each partner is set out at Appendix 2.

The partnership champions the provision of quality affordable housing from the existing stock. All properties are refurbished to the Decent Homes Standard and are managed and maintained by the partners. This increases the supply of quality housing in the city and improves neighbourhoods through the reduction of empty homes. Additionally the partnership creates employment, apprenticeships and training opportunities with many partners providing placements for specific groups including people who are long-term unemployed and those who have recently left prison for example.

Funding and Outputs

Almost £16 million of funding has been secured to create 617 units of housing from empty properties in the city. The table at Appendix 3 sets out levels of funding secured by each partner and their targets for numbers of units.

Approach

The partnership delivers a co-ordinated approach to tackling empty properties across the city. Each partner has defined the geographic areas in which they are focused and the products which they can offer to property owners. Some organisations offer a mix of purchase and leases and others are focused on one route. In addition to the two acquisition options, owners can also take out an interest free loan to bring their property back into use. The partners’ products complement one another enabling a holistic approach to tackling empty properties.

Hull City Council utilises Council Tax data to identify empty homes and corresponds with owners. The owners contact the Council and express their preferred option and their written consent is obtained. A referral is then made to the community partner organisations. Where owners refuse to bring their properties back into use the Council takes enforcement action to ensure that they do so. To date this has resulted in 20 properties being made brought back into use by the community organisations in the partnership.

In addition to properties being identified through the Council’s data, partners are pro-actively seeking out empty properties though estate agents, auction sites and through walk-arounds.

Area specific action

Due to the pre-agreed geographic preferences and continuous engagement there is no competition between partners for the same property meaning that grant funding is not spent unnecessarily on increased acquisition costs which enables the funding to go further.

A number of areas in the city exhibit severe housing market decline with high levels of vacancy; anti-social behaviour and neighbourhood nuisance; and poor quality housing stock. At the start of the programme the partnership agreed a coherent strategy to target these areas in order to achieve maximum impact and value from the funding available. As well as tackling empty properties, the Council is delivering frontage improvement schemes and external solid wall insulation schemes which further enhances the neighbourhoods and provides improved energy efficient housing stock. Photographs of completed improvements are available at Appendix 4.

At any one time there can be four partners working on one court terrace or one street simultaneously to tackle all of the empty properties at once. The Council also undertakes a range of complementary activities to address other neighbourhood issues. This includes enforcement action against private landlords who are not maintaining their properties adequately; taking action against anti-social behaviour and fly-tipping; organising bring out your rubbish days; and working with the Police and the Fire Service to tackle crime and implement fire prevention measures. Owner occupiers are also offered financial assistance to improve their homes.

Data sharing

The success of the Partnership has been achieved in part by the effective use of a data sharing protocol which enables the Council to share landlord information with partners securely online. Each partner has signed up to the protocol which is available at Appendix 5.

Continuous engagement

A further reason for success is the regular engagement between partners. Monthly meetings, hosted on a rotational basis, enable clear communications on progress with individual properties, identification of properties for enforcement, and sharing good practice between partners. This forum has also provided the opportunity for guest speakers and visits from the Hull Civic Society, the Probation Service and Jobcentre Plus.

Successful delivery

To date the partnership has brought more than 180 homes into use and work is underway at a further 90 properties. Not only has this created a new supply of affordable homes at a time of great demand, but it has also generated £1million in New Homes Bonus and almost £500,000 in Affordable Homes Bonus which will be reinvested in the city.

The partnership has also increased employment and training across the city, more than 30 apprenticeships and nearly 300 work experience opportunities have been created. Overall the net number of long term empty properties in the city has reduced by 406 from 2011 to 2014.

The partnership has attracted significant media attention both locally and nationally in recognition of the positive outcomes being achieved through its co-ordinated approach. A selection of articles is available at Appendix 6.

The Future of the partnership

Despite the current empty homes funding coming to an end in March 2015, the commitment, desire and optimism within the Hull Empty Homes Partnership continues and the partners, some of whom are now registering as Registered Providers, will strive to attract further funding to develop the programme and to tackle the remaining 2000 empty private sector properties in the city.

Below: David Clare (standing right) with the Hull Partnership representatives.

Groundwork (Rochdale) and Rochdale Borough Council

Introduction

Groundwork helps people and organisations make changes in order to create better neighbourhoods, to build skills and job prospects, and to live and work in a greener way. We’re a registered charity with over 30 years of experience working with partners to deliver successful projects across the Bolton, Bury Oldham and Rochdale area. We know that the important issues are all connected – our work covers 'environmental issues’, 'regeneration', ‘youth and community work’, ‘business support’, 'employment' and ‘training’. Our joined up approach means we create projects and services that benefit people, the environment and wider society. The work we deliver around bringing long term empty properties back in to use is an important part of what we do as a vehicle to provide skills and jobs to local long term unemployed individuals.

Our Programme

Groundwork has been bringing empty homes back into the rental market since 2009. Under the empty homes funding it has enable Groundwork to develop a strategic and long term partnership with the Council’s Strategic Housing Team in helping to meet the Council’s Empty Homes Strategy by:

  • Under Rounds 1&2 funding – bringing 16 long term empties back into local use using the repair and lease model
  • Supporting 64 local long term unemployed people through a linked skills and employment programme which lies at the very heart of this programme
  • We help local unemployed people through a vocational training package and wrap around job search support to find jobs. A set of 4 learners are identified for every property to work on this programme. In that time they will get hands-on experience by working in the properties and they will also gain a recognised trade qualification called the Building Craft Occupancy qualification, a CSCS card and wrap around support from our dedicated Work Programme team in Rochdale with job search, CV support & interview techniques.
  • Through our relationship with Rochdale Boroughwide Housing and the Council most trainees will be guaranteed an interview with a local contractor when they have successfully completed our programme. Our track record shows that over 80% of learners we have worked with to date have either gained a job or gone into further training as a result of this programme.
  • Once renovated we rent the homes at affordable rents to benefit some of the most vulnerable people in Rochdale
  • Once renovated under a Housing Management Agreement we pay the local Housing Provider Rochdale Boroughwide Housing to manage the properties for us for up to 10 years

Our Partners

Rochdale Council

The programme would not be possible without the vision and support from Rochdale Council. They have supported us by:

  • Providing a senior key contact – Peter Maynard – who plays an active role in supporting Groundwork
  • Provide funding to the programme – without this we would not be able to deliver the programme
  • Discussing with us ideas in how the Council can support this work beyond the grant ending in 2015
  • Hold an annual empty homes event where landlord are invited to hear about what the scheme can offer them
  • Implement Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs) in trying to bring properties forward for our programme
  • Individually write to landlords who own vacant properties inviting them in to meet with us
  • Help us publicise the scheme through press releases and member briefings
  • Provide technical support at the early stages in pulling the scheme of works together on the properties we take into the programme

Another important partner to us is Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, they:

  • Provide a senior contact to help unblock and manage any issues
  • Allow us to use their Stores for materials we need in the properties
  • Allow us to use their skilled staff (electricians, gas engineers) on the properties we renovate
  • Manage the properties on our behalf (at a small fee) as they see the wider picture in terms of programmes aim in supporting local people back into work
  • Supporting progression of learners into interviews with local contractors engaged on RBH contracts

Our Beneficiaries

“It has improved my confidence and knowledge of working with people in the building industry. It also improved my training in other trades I have never done before. The course was a confidence builder. It improves team work and improves hands on knowledge of the building trades.”

“The scheme was a fantastic experience”

“The Groundwork staff really helped me along the way, giving me good support and encouragement. It drives you forward to move to a better life and has widened my horizons.”

Below - Darryl Lawrence of Rochdale Housing Initiative (left) receiving the award from David Clare (Habitat for Humanity, right) on behalf of the Rochdale partnership.

EMMAUS SALFORD AND SALFORD CITY COUNCIL

The partnership between Emmaus Salford and Salford City Council, formed ten years ago, has been pivotal in the formation of an Emmaus community in Salford. The project has been supported by council officers and is chaired by Councillor Val Burgoyne. Emmaus communities support formerly homeless people by giving them a home, meaningful work in a social enterprise and an opportunity to get back on their feet again. Emmaus Salford will be the 25th community to open in the UK.

Salford has significantly higher rates of statutory homelessness in comparison with the average for England. Furthermore,  45% of those people who are homeless in Salford are not eligible for housing through the Council. Emmaus Salford will offer a positive alternative for single homeless people, who make up the majority of this group. Emmaus House is located in Langworthy, which is among the top 10 wards for multiple deprivation in the UK.

The city council encourages the use of previously developed land and buildings to support regeneration in the local area. This Emmaus project contributes to these objectives by returning the disused former nursing home, Emmaus House, into a community house and place of work for 26 homeless and vulnerable people. The city council had previously supported Emmaus Salford to open a very successful smaller shop premises, at a peppercorn rent.

Emmaus Salford will contribute to the Council’s Housing Strategy to reduce homelessness within the city through a partnership approach with other agencies. Emmaus Salford is also well placed to contribute to the Council’s objective to tackle the causes of homelessness, as it takes a holistic approach to working with residents.

After the successful submission for funding to the Empty Property Community Grants Programme, refurbishment commenced in December 2013 on the accommodation phases with practical completion being achieved in April 2014.

During the refurbishment phase consultancy work was awarded to Urban Vision, a joint venture between Salford City Council, Capita Symonds and Morrison Highways Maintenance. Urban Vision has since provided the multi-disciplinary design and management support to deliver this project. Additional funding was secured for a retail shop on the site and the work was tendered to contractors on the city council’s approved list of contractors. The shop opened on the 5th April 2014 and will help to ensure Emmaus Salford meets one of Emmaus’s strategic objectives to become financially and organisationally secure.

All the redecoration will be carried out by Emmaus companions (residents) and volunteers along with organisations and partners such as CRASH, Network Rail, Salix Homes and Urban Vision

Many Emmaus residents have experienced a combination of negative events in their lives, including relationship breakdown, bereavement or job loss. Many will have institutional experience and three quarters will have slept rough at some point in their lives. The majority struggle with alcohol and drug dependencies.

Like other Emmaus communities, Emmaus Salford will provide a stable home, meaningful work and the individual support and training opportunities that residents need to a make lasting change in their lives. All residents will have a personal support plan, which provides them with the holistic support they need to regain control of their lives. This may include counselling, debt advice, medical or dental care and support to overcome addictions. Residents will also have access to education and training to prepare them for employment and independent living.

Emmaus Salford will provide a range of benefits for the local community. Like other Emmaus projects, Emmaus Salford will work closely with referral agencies, day shelters and hostels to provide an effective and sustainable solution for homeless people in the local area. The most significant beneficiaries will be residents of the community, who are vulnerable adults with experience of homelessness. The project will also create a number of permanent jobs and a range of volunteering opportunities for local people. This will help to meet Emmaus’ strategic aims to ensure the project becomes financially robust.

Salford will benefit from the project as the 2012 Social Return on Investment study demonstrated that Emmaus communities generate £11 in social, economic and environmental benefits for every £1 invested. The most significant benefits relate to improvements in residents’ mental and physical health; reductions in offending; reductions in substance misuse and improvements in skills and employability.

There will also be a long term benefit to the local community who will be able to access a source of good quality, affordable second-hand furniture and household goods. An Emmaus community saves around 250 tonnes per year from landfill through reuse and recycling. Communities, through solidarity, offer support to other Emmaus communities and all also give items for free or at very low cost to local people who are in need.

Unfortunately nobody was available to receive the award in person on behalf of either of partners.

Contact details for Award Winners and Sponsors

Deadline for voting on BGM minutes - Thursday 18th September

18 Sep 2014 23:59
Event Description: 

The deadline for voting to approve the BGM minutes is 11.59 pm, Thursday 18th September.

Contact details: 

Minister praises EPOs, but no to programme extension

In a letter to the Empty Homes Network, Stephen Williams, the Minister for Empty Homes has turned down our plea for an extension of the current Empty Homes Programme beyond 31st March 2015 (reported here), whilst acknowledging the contribution of local authority empty homes officers in bringing down the total number of empties.

The letter to us reads as follows:

Thank you for your letters of 28 July to Brandon Lewis MP and I about the empty homes programme.

The Government has placed a high commitment to bring back empty homes into use and empty homes in England are now at their lowest level at just over 635,000 which is down by around a fifth since 2009 and their lowest level since 2004. There has also been a dramatic drop in the numbers of long-term vacant properties, which fell by around a third over the past 4 years, from 316,251 in 2009 to 216,050 in 2013. This is partly due to the hard work carried out by local authority empty homes officers in identifying and persuading owners to bring properties back into use.

I can confirm that the Empty Homes Programmes will close on 31 March 2015 and registered providers and community groups are required to complete delivery by that date to claim funding. There are no plans to extend the delivery deadline which was clearly set out in the bidding guidance and funding agreements with providers.

However, bids for empty homes schemes are eligible to apply for 2015-18 Affordable Homes Programme funding. In a change from the previous programme, all the funding has not been allocated at the outset and the remainder will be available for future bids in due course. You mention the 75% starts on site grant payments for affordable housing. I would like to clarify this only applies to early starts on site between 1 July 2014 and 31 March 2015.

As regards the last point, about bidding for funding for the new programme, we are aware of one successful bid so far (Rossendale's bid for revolving loan funding which we believe is cross-authority); but we are also aware of another bid which was directly modelled on successful delivery under the current programme which failed.  This suggests that the value-for-money criteria will be tightly applied.

 

Report-an-Empty website goes off line

The Report an Empty website has been taken off-line, with indications that the relevant contracts are under review.  The website allowed members of the public to report empty homes and the information supplied was then forwarded to local authorities. Local authorities were encouraged to report back with any progress or actions being undertaken.

History

The website was launched in 2009 and was the brainchild of Empty Homes Agency Ltd.. The charity still owns the domain name and as far as we know the site is still the property of the charity although funding is thought to be mainly if not entirely from other sources such as Shelter (see below).

Subsequently, the website received further impetus as a result of George Clarke's Great British Property Scandal programmes on empty homes in 2011 and local authorities received a flurry of reports generated by the site.  We believe that Channel 4 had an involvement in improvements to the site before control was returned to EHA Ltd..

In addition Shelter Cymru sought to promote the site as part of its empty homes initiative in Wales; and further support was provided by Shelter Scotland as it developed its Scottish-government-supported Scottish Empty Homes Partnership.

The site found a home as part of the mysociety.com portfolio of online resources, which includes WhatDoTheyKnow and TheyWorkForYou, and more specifically as part of FixMyStreet which seems to have its own development team.

The Empty Homes Network website has included a link to reportemptyhomes.com from our front page since 2011. The link has now been removed until such time as the site is live again.

Impact

In England, many local authorities have their own web-form to report empty homes; and conversely, few, possibly none, point members of the public towards the reportemptyhomes.com website.

In Wales and Scotland, however, the website seems to have been adopted as the "official" route to reporting empty homes, with many local authorities offering direct links to reportemptyhomes.com rather than providing their own web-forms.  These reporting mechanisms are currently off-line.

What next?

Early indications are that the website has not been taken down for "strategic" or financial reasons but because it was not fulfilling its role properly owing to some technical issues that are being laid at the door of the development/support team. 

Nevertheless, Kristen Hubert of the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership has suggested that this is an opportunity to review how the site is used and how its full potential can be realised: so there is likely to be a strategic review of it.  No doubt the issue of Scottish independence may have some influence on the direction taken.

Kristen has said she would welcome feedback from EHN members about their experience of the reportanempty tool: so if you are able to supply any you are strongly encouraged to log in and post a comment to this story.