EH review + NHB

Hello,

We've just undertaken a review of LTE's ahead of the Oct CTB1 submission. We visited, called or wrote to over 1,100 addresses and found over 400 properties that were actually occupied. This will have a huge impact on our NHB (in the region of £2.9m over 6 years) so we've started a 'lesson learnt' dialogue with ctax colleagues to see how this could be avoided. We've suggested ideas such as amending bills and calling owners / visiting properties once they reaches 6 months empty etc. Ctax are also exploring whether they could fine owners for not notifying us (apparently it can be done).

I was wondering if any other LA's have successfully implemented anything that could help cleanse the data as and when properties are occupied to save us a hugely time-consuming excerise each summer.

Regards,

Dan Thorning (Plymouth CC)

Forums: 
New Homes Bonus

I've done the same for 3 years. This year I aslo included STE's empty for 4 or 5 months as at July end, to nip any potential LTEs in the bud. I found only 16% to be occupied. Lots of growling about LTEP and having to pay Council Tax when services aren't being used to which I respond that a 'person tax' was tried in the 90's and the people did not like it, so we have a tax on capital that is less onerous that it would have been under the pre-1990 domestic rates system.
What's worked/lessons learnt?
1. Being able to update accounts.
2. Having a dedicated CT officer to update more complex cases (I can't change the laible person nor can I amend an LTEP to an occupied.
3. Doing the job myself means I create a new list of potential problem properties all the while gathering qualitative info that might not be forthcoming from a data cleansing firm.
4. If I can't get hold of an owner within 5 mins, I put the property on the LTE atregt list that I can tackle at my leisure in the next few months.  
5. Our LTE's have increased since last year, but not as much as they would have done without doing this exercise... I have no control over local authority housing regeneration schemes.
6. I found an owner in prison following anti-terrorism team surveillance of his paintball venue ... just after I'd done Prevent Strategy training. Be alert.
Why can't I get paragraphs working in this message?                                

Nick P-G
Reading BC
01189373091

Similar to Nick P-G (without the excitement of anti-terror surveillance!), also reviewed those empties in the 0-6mths list that would fall into the data by the time of the CTB1 submission which was worthwhile.
One thing we picked up this year was that in a significant number of cases (where a property recorded as LTE was found to be occupied), CT staff had already received notification from the new liable party and had even made the changes to the account start dates, etc.  The problem was that they forgot to remove the code identifying the property as being empty, a simple clerical error that skewed the figures.  A waste of our time in one sense, although it did highlight the value of our work (our figures have also increased slightly, but nowhere near as much has they would have done). 
Having identified this issue, we have offered to deliver a short training session to the CT staff responsible for amending accounts, to explain what we do, why we do it and how we can help each other to ensure the data is accurate.  This has been welcomed by their manager so we're hoping it takes place and that we see an improvement. 

Hi,

At Exeter I've been doing this since 2012, with very good results the first year, and now a decent amount of maintenance year on year to keep the figures down. Lessons learnt:

  • Council Tax access and the ability to add notes (especially contact details gathered from owners)
  • Strong working alliance with Council Tax so that lists, amendments and queries are dealt with quickly. A specific officer to put calls through to from owners is ideal (but not always possible)
  • Letters Vs visits – In 2012 we visited 124 properties. This year we visited 19. We now start in March time, and send out up to 3 letters to both the empty property address and the liable person before visiting, with 3-4 weeks in between to allow for response times. This saves on staff resources and whittles it down to just the unresponsive owners for the most part.
  • Land registries when there is no response - We’ve often found the property has been resold or the person has changed address. Sometimes land registries can yield more information
  • Better letters – We modified the content of the letters this year and got a more ‘friendly’ response from owners. We now get 70% of owners we write out to responding to us, and we contacted 511 this year in total.
  • Collecting empty property info as you go – We have two questionnaires sent with our letters, one if it’s occupied and one if it’s empty. This means we get useful information about the property either way. Both ask for contact details as well.
  • Collecting and storing information – we now have a database which collates all the information we collect which is useful for empty homes work as well as comparing information year on year.

I write a report every year with all the process, letters, procedures and lessons learned / recommendations. I’d be happy to share these with anyone on the network – please email empty.homes@exeter.gov.uk

I have to agree with Dan, if Council Tax were checking up on this at the 6 month period, we wouldn’t have so much work to do. Our biggest ask is that they get forwarding addresses for empty home owners and telephone numbers!

Thanks,
Rosie
:

For those with limited time or resources or want to concentrate on dealing with the problem properties,  then there are 2 or 3 companies who will do the work for you and take part of any NHB generated as a payment. This is helpful in that there is no upfront cost and a great incentive to the firms to investigate every property. At least one company has been doing this since NHB started and understand the issues very well. I believe one of them is assisting over 70 Councils. The only downside is that once you start this process you need to keep it going as long as NHB is around.
If you are interested then start talking to them now so they can have trained staff in place before next summer and have all the detail they need to get you and them the best result.
For a finders fee I will even tell you who these mystery companies are!
 
Steve Habgood