Empty Homes Network

Councils to be required to report empty homes

The Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP

Speaking at the Goverment Property Conference this morning, Matt Hancock, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, announced that provisions were to be included in the Housing and Planning Bill that would required all local authorities to publish lists of their "surplus assets".  This is to include all council homes empty for over 6 months and other buildings empty over 2 years.

The government press release states:

The minister also revealed today that through the Housing and Planning Bill, local authorities would be required, for the first time, to report on their assets in a similar fashion. This will increase transparency by showing the public how they are rationalising their estates, with this helping councils deliver savings by making better use of empty buildings and freeing up brownfield sites to build more homes. This reporting includes a requirement to publish information on surplus assets that they have retained for longer than 2 years (6 months for housing) and to give a reason for doing so.

Looking at the bigger picture, the press release comments on the reduction in the size of the goverment's property estate as a result of the drive to rationalise it claiming:

a 22% reduction equivalent to 336 football pitches, 43 Shards, or more than the entire principality of Monaco. This means that the total central government estate has fallen below 5,000 holdings for the first time and could fit inside the area of West Finchley

Experts claim that this is the first time "West Finchley" has been used as a unit of measurement, joining the more frequently cited Wales, elephants, double-decker buses, human hairs and football pitches.  As few people know where West Finchley is, never mind how big it is, we can reveal that it is close to North Finchley. As for its size, after some difficulties in tracking down the necessary details, we have been able to find out how big it was in 2013 as revealed in the file attachment (size 229KB).

Granby 4 Streets products - craft work from the project

The "empty homes" alternative to Ikea. For those who haven't yet reached peak curtains.

Life in the Lakes - property guardianship

February 2016

We’re already into the second month of a new year and I’ve got my enthusiasm back again, hooray!  And my broken elbow (or Spanish Archer, as Matthew Smith described it!) is finally getting better.

I had a very productive ‘one-to-one’ with my manager in January – we covered lots of ground and discussed different ideas, such as producing empty homes guidance for parish and town councils (which came out of our empty homes strategy consultation). By the way, David Gibbens has uploaded our empty homes strategy to the EHN Library for those who’d like to use it as a template. There was also enforcement and EDMOs; our empty homes grant management scheme and our matchmaker scheme.

Recently, we had to cancel the meeting of our Cumbria Empty Property Group when all but one of our members couldn’t attend, so instead I met the speaker on my own.

 

It was Chris McCormick from Ad Hoc, a property guardianship organisation that has been operating since 2006 in the UK, and all the way back to 1990 in the Netherlands.

 

It was really interesting to hear from Chris about property guardianship, which can help to keep a property ‘lived in’ and secure. The guardianship of a property allows owners to benefit from reduced liability for council tax or insurance.  By living in the property, guardians can also highlight issues which arise, so they can be identified and resolved quickly.  There is a short 31 day notice period to hand the property back to the owner, as the company grants a licence to occupy a unit to the guardian – but it is NOT a tenancy.

Guardians are strictly vetted and are usually people who need flexible and/or affordable accommodation. Many are professionals, key workers or mature and post-graduate students.  It can also include those saving a deposit to buy a house, those ‘trying out’ living in an area before they buy, or for those who need accommodation for career purposes, such as nurses and engineers.

Chris explained that if an owner is interested, he would arrange to visit and assess the property’s suitability.  He stressed that guardians won’t occupy a premises until the property is assessed for fire safety and decent heating etc.  (There would be no obligation on an owner at this point).  If repairs are necessary, Ad Hoc say they may fund these first and the owner would grant Ad Hoc a Property Protection Agreement for the premises.

It’s worth noting that the owner and Ad Hoc have the right to access the property at all times and there is no set period of contract, just 31 days’ notice for hand-back.

There are also strict rules for guardians – for example no pets, children, parties, smoking or naked flames.

My personal conclusion is that property guardianship may not appeal to all empty home owners as there are not big financial benefits, but it could appeal to those with a ‘social conscience’.  It may be good for those whose properties are taking a long time to sell, as it would keep the property lived in and in a ‘viewable’ condition.

There has been negative press recently about some property guardianship organisations, and good positive stories too.  Currently there is no overall regulatory governing body for property guardianship, so the decision on which organisation to choose – as an owner and guardian – will be down to careful research.  

In the meantime, for those who are unclear, I hope this helps explain how property guardianship works, its pros and cons, and what one organisation in particular has to offer.

Best wishes from the Lakes,

Lynne Leach, Empty Homes Officer, South Lakeland District Council

 

 

Land Registry email address changes

Pay to Stay and empty homes

What has Pay to Stay got to do with empty properties I hear you ask? Well from a southern perspective possibly very little, but the further you go north the more there is a relationship between the two.

As any experienced practitioner will tell you, nothing comes as a surprise where owners of EPs are concerned, so when, in Rochdale, we audited ownership to check for benefit fraud it didn’t come as a shock that some EP owners also lived in social housing properties. So in the North we have owners who live in social rented properties and own other homes which are sometimes rented out but can often be long-term empty.

Pay to Stay basics

For those unfamiliar with Pay to Stay, and I include the Government in that list, the policy will be based around an income threshold above which the landlords can charge a market rent ( in the latest version it will be mandatory for council tenants and “ discretionary” for HA tenants,though clearly heavily encouraged for the latter). It isn’t clear how the assessment will be done (or by whom) and whether it will be self verification or confirmation by HMRC. To paraphrase a very quotable comedy troupe, “he’s making it up”.

Social tenants owning other homes

One little problem the Government have probably failed to spot in its pursuance of this housing policy is that in areas where the stock is heavily biased towards smaller terraced housing, making many homes unsuitable for larger families, or where property prices are way below the national average, it’s not uncommon to find social tenants owning other homes. This can be because a family was rehoused from an unsuitable property or simply because they purchased it at a later date.

These homes may be rented out and the income declared to HMRC; but they are equally likely to be empty. When I broached this subject with CLG, I am not sure which bemused them most, social tenants with other properties (why would they live in a “council” house?) or the utter bewilderment of someone owning another home and keeping it empty whilst renting.

So for social tenants with other properties, the first issue for landlords and HMRC will be whether the income is declared: if it is then all of it could be put into the calculation and might take people over the Pay to Stay threshold. But should that be the gross income, the gross income less mortgage interest and other “business expenses”, or even the gross income less all mortgage outgoings (i.e. the actual net income)?

Notional income from empty homes

And what if the property is empty? Should the property attract a notional income in the same way some benefits assume an income from capital? Should the capital value be used to assess the notional income (using the benefit model of £1 for every £250 of “capital “over £3,000). And again, what costs should be taken into account?

I raise this issue as not only will Pay to Stay have an effect on social tenants, but could be a lever to encourage EP owners to bring the empty back into use if the notional income was sufficiently high in the context of the Pay to Stay rent. Obviously if the property was actually rented out, at least the owner would be able to make the usual deductions from the rent to calculate the income which wouldn’t be the case if a notional rent was applied.

Example

Take Mr and Mrs Smith: they live in 3 bed HA property, have done for some years, and 3 years ago Mr Smith purchased a 5 bed house for around £200,000. It has been empty now for over 2 years. As it stands the Council will now begin EDMO proceedings against him, but if under Pay to Stay some form of notional income were applied it might just be the nudge the owner needed to bring the property into use.

I will leave the issues of equality concerning some households in social housing owning multiple rental properties for another day, though it is fair to say CLG spotted this issue.

Darryl Lawrence, Rochdale Housing Initiative

'Re-instate Community Grants Programme' says Smith Institute

A study of community-led housing by the Smith Institute, a left-leaning think-tank, has called for the government to re-instate the Empty Homes Community Grant Programme.

The report is the result of research funded by the Nationwide Foundation and conducted between April and September 2015. It considers all the significant varieties of community-led housing, including co-operatives, co-housing and Community Land Trusts, as well as the self-help housing groups that were the main beneficiaries of the EHCGP.

Challenges

The Executive Summary registers some of the key challenges affecting the sector:

  • The public lack understanding and awareness of what the community-led sector is and how they can influence their communities by becoming involved
  • There is also a lack of understanding of the benefits of community-led development among key stakeholders, such as local authorities and some housing associations.
  • Focused support – particularly for nascent groups – is needed, as well as access to professional help and advice. Local authorities and housing associations play a part here, but they are under-resourced and face other pressures; in addition, they do not always understand what is required.
  • Funding is not the biggest issue for the sector, but there is a chronic shortage of seed-corn funding (funding to help groups get established and plan their first steps) for some new groups and projects. There are also questions to be explored about the terms of lending for development and retail mortgage funding, and about the capacity of existing lenders to support rapid expansion, should it occur.
  • The planning system need not be an impediment to the activities of community-led groups, but it can be when they lack adequate support and guidance. There are a number of specific planning-related measures (such as section 106 agreements, provision of serviced land by local authorities, and the neighbourhood planning process) where improvements can be made.

Empty Homes features amongst the 12 recommendations

Recommendation 4: The government should reinstate the grant funding used by community-led housing groups to bring empty homes back into use.

Some parts of the text appear to have been written earlier than others, as in places the Empty Homes Community Grants Programme is treated as though its future is uncertain rather than having definitively ended. It also describes the EHCGP as an element of a larger HCA programme, whereas in reality the money was topsliced from the affordable housing capital pot before it got the HCA and was retained by DCLG, who then commissioned Tribal. This is relevant to an understanding of who exactly was responsible for the programme and for the decision neither to extend it for a few months (to use up underspend) nor to mount a new programme.

Upsizing versus out-sizing

Further research following the demise of the empty homes programme would be welcome in illuminating the key question asked in the report, namely whether the best approach for community-led housing would be "upsizing" or "outsizing". Upsizing involves organisations growing dramatically in scale: outsizing involves replicating the models of existing organisations to create new ones - for example in areas where they currently do not exist.  

Sentiment within the sector appears to favour outsizing. But the EHCGP featured both  outsizing and upsizing (and downsizing again!) and would make it a perfect candidate for more fine-grained piece of research into that very issue. We hope the potential funders of research will take note.

Recommendations in full

The report is well worth reading. In the meantime, here are its 12 recommendations.

  1. Recommendation 1: Community-led housing groups should set up a country-wide network offering local support (which is not attached to any specific model of delivery) to emerging groups. Such a network could help improve and develop services, such as guidance, peer-to-peer support and mentoring. It could also develop a sector-wide communications and PR strategy aimed at the public and key stakeholders.
  2. Recommendation 2: The sector, in partnership with local authorities and other stakeholders, should press the case for dedicated, long-term HCA/GLA funding to support new community-led housing schemes. A new funding settlement should include support for new mechanisms, such as government guarantee schemes, low-interest loan funding and fit-for-purpose seed-corn grants and funding packages.
  3. Recommendation 3: Consideration should be given to exceptions for community-led housing groups to the recently announced redeployment of social housing grant for shared ownership rather than sub-market rent.
  4. Recommendation 4: The government should reinstate the grant funding used by community-led housing groups to bring empty homes back into use.
  5. Recommendation 5: The sector should investigate alternative ways in which seed-corn funding might be accessed. Potential sources might include the philanthropy sector and charitable institutions.
  6. Recommendation 6: The sector should work more closely with the retail mortgage industry to try to standardise restrictions on resale and make them compatible with lender requirements.
  7. Recommendation 7: The sector should work with local authorities on how to make planning more accessible to community-led groups, bearing in mind their more limited access to support and resources.
  8. Recommendation 8: The government should include explicit guidance on the role of community-led housing groups in securing affordable housing and community services (including to housing associations and local government) in a revised National Planning Policy Framework.
  9. Recommendation 9: The sector should work with local authorities to identify the circumstances in which section 106 agreements may offer opportunities for community-led initiatives. The results of this work should be communicated to local planners and to community-led housing groups.
  10. Recommendation 10: The government should review the neighbourhood planning process, with a view to simplifying the process and promoting community-led housing groups as affordable-housing providers.
  11. Recommendation 11: Guidance to local authorities under the Self-Build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015 should give more attention to community-led housing.
  12. Recommendation 12: The UK government should learn from the successes of community-led housing activity funded by the Welsh Government and co-ordinated by the Wales Cooperative Centre.

The Empty Homes Conference 2016 - Birmingham, 24th May

24 May 2016 10:00
24 May 2016 16:45
Event Description: 

With thanks to our main sponsors:

On this page

Date of Event Promotional Opportunities Empty Homes Awards
Timetable for day Programme Conference Supporters
Delegate Rates         Travel and Accommodation Downloadable documents

Date for your diary:

We now have an agreed date for the 2016 National Empty Homes Conference of Tuesday, 24th May, 2016.  The Conference will be held at Maple House in Birmingham - the same venue we've used for the last four years.

Collage of previous conferences Timetable for the day

  • 09.00 to 10.00 registration and refreshments
  • 10.00 to 13.00 morning session
  • 13.00 to 13.50 lunch
  • 13.50 to 16.45 afternoon session

Delegate Rates

Thanks to the sponsorship from Ad Hoc Property Management, we are once again able to keep our prices well below those of comparable commercially-run events, despite increases in costs to us.

Rates are as low as £99 and there are hefty discounts for additional delegates. Paid-up Empty Homes Network members, as always, benefit from discounted rates:

Paid-up EHN Members Amount
First Delegate £149
Additional Delegate £119
Small, not-for-profit rate (all delegates) £99
Non-Members and Associates  
First Delegate £179
Additional Delegate £149
Small, not-for-profit rate (all delegates) £125

 

 

 

 

 

 

Booking form, brochure etc

The latest versions of the brochure, speaker details, booking form etc (where available) can be found at the end of this page.

Promotional Opportunities

Download our Promotional Opportunities brochure and other useful informatoin if you'd like to benefit from the publicity attached to this event. You can find these items on our dedicated web-page here.

Outline Programme

The confirmed programme is indicated below; speakers still need to be finalised for one or two sessions.

  • In his brief Sponsor’s Welcome, Colum Anglin of Ad Hoc Property Management Ltd. will describe the initiatives being taken by Ad Hoc to introduce agreed professional standards within the Property Guardian industry.
  • Since last year, David Mullins and Halima Sacranie of Birmingham University have conducted important new research into the successes of the Community Grants Programme. Even more importantly they've drawn on that research to produce a Best Practice Guide on joint working between local authorities and community housing organisations which will be launched at the Conference.
  • Helen Williams, Chief Executive of our champions the Empty Homes Agency, will explore the issues and opportunities facing us following the 2015 election, with empty homes no longer figuring as an explicit part of the official programme of government. She'll also respond to issues raised by delegates.
  • Andrew Lavender of Housing Training and Law Consultancy Ltd. will again offer his ever-popular Practitioner Surgery where he is guaranteed to be able to answer case queries around enforcement, loans, grants, and, come to think of it, just about anything you care to mention. To meet popular demand, we're expecting two surgeries this year.
  • In this year’s exemplar empty homes strategy slot, a speaker [name TBC] from  Leeds City Council will outline key areas of innovation,  including work  with third parties such as Empty Homes Doctor  and  Canopy.
  • In turn, Steve Hoey of Canopy Housing Project  - World Habitat Award finalists - will provide detailed insight into how their self-help-housing approach provides significant added value to the work of the City Council and the public sector generally.
  • Local authority practitioners will be keen to hear Chris Skinner of nplaw (Norfolk County Council’s shared legal service) explore changed aspects of compulsory purchase in the wake  of the Housing and Planning Act.
  • Harvey Ellingham of Home Improvement Guarantee will describe how this innovative scheme can help overcome the fears of reluctant empty home owners when needing to deal with builders in order to get repairs done.
  • Steve Grimshaw of Kent County Council will give us the latest information about the Kent No Use Empty initiative, which celebrated its 10th anniversay last year. He'll pay particular attention to the key lessons of the loans scheme and the delivery of affordable housing via HCA grant funding.
  • A speaker [TBC] from Fraser and Fraser, genealogists and international probate researchers, will outline how their comprehensive tracing service can help local authorities deal with missing owners and empty homes.
  • We are looking forward to hearing some interesting case material from Mark Siddall from Broadland District Council, who will  be running through important lessons  from a Final EDMO case as well as drawing on his extensive experience of EDMO applications generally.
  • David Ireland, well known to us for his previous career in the field of empty homes, will draw on the international perspective gained through his role as Chief Executive of the Building and Social Housing Foundation to show how empty homes become a political issue and focus of community struggles. 
  • Community Protection Notices offer a new tool in the empty homes toolbox. David Armstrong of Derwent Chambers and Mallard Consultancy is a nationally-recognised barrister specialising in this area of law: he'll explore the potential in an illuminating session on CPNs.
  • Charlie Stewart and TBC describe the unique property matching service of Homesmatch, which offers a whole new avenue for  owners of empty homes to find a solution to their problem.

Travel and Accommodation arrangements

The event will be held at: Maple House, 150 Corporation St., Birmingham, B4 6TB (same venue as last year).

You can download the directions from our Information Library here.

If you can persuade your organisation to book early and you need to travel, then rooms at Birmingham Travelodge hotels were available for around £38 on the night of the 23rd  (ie the night before the event) as of 20th January 2016 or £29 further out (eg Fort Dunlop).  We are not on commission from Travelodge and this is just to give an indication of possible costs of overnight accommodation.

Empty Homes Awards

Details will be available shortly.

Gold Conference Supporters

SPONSORSHIP  OPTIONS AVAILABLE

 

Downloadable documents

In preparation.

Big Issue Empty Homes campaign - latest update

Lichfield to get tough on empty homes says Councillor

Property Guardian approach builds momentum in Scotland

After a flurry of negative comment (and some positive responses) about the property guardian scene in England, it will be interesting to see what comments are generated by this piece in a major Scottish newspaper.

 

Statement of interests:

  • The author's brother is a property guardian.
  • Ad Hoc Property Management is a sponsor of EHN's Empty Homes Conference