Response to Communities and Local Government (CLG) consultation on National Indicator (NI) definitions

The NAEPP executive discussed this last week.  I will prepare a response in time for the deadline of 21 December.

We concentrated on NI 154 (net additional homes provided), as NI 170 (previously developed land vacant or derelict over 5 years) measures the problem rather than the solution.

Opinion was divided over whether to propose an additional NI specifically on empty homes, or to propose adaptation of NI 154 to include empty homes activity.  The latter view argued that CLG is very unlikely to agree any extra NIs, given its determination to have a drastically lower number than the number of BVPIs.

NI 154 as drafted includes changes of use and conversions, but not reoccupied vacant dwellings, when calculating net additional homes provided.  It does not require the LA to show that its actions caused any changes of use or conversion.

If we propose that NI 154 also take account of reoccupied vacant dwellings, we should  suggest a substantial vacancy period for qualifying properties:  given the criticism of BVPI 64 resulting from its lack of a minimum vacancy period.  One suggestion is 2 years, which would correspond to the new vacancy period qualifying for 5% VAT.  Such a long vacancy period may also make it easier to assume LA responsibility without needing to prove it.

NI 154 as drafted deducts demolitions when calculating net additional homes.  By the same logic an amended NI 154 should perhaps deduct dwellings which have become vacant over the stipulated vacancy period during the year in question.  However the data reliability implications of doing that may make it unacceptable.

Please show in this forum before 3 December your views on these options:

  1. Whether to propose an extra NI, or adaptation of NI 154.
  2. If an extra NI, what it should be.
  3. If adaptation of NI 154:
  4. What minimum vacancy period.
  5. Whether the LA should need to show that it caused the reoccupation.
  6. Whether the calculation should deduct dwellings becoming vacant for the same period.
  7. Anything else.

Thank you.

 

 

 

Forums: 
N170 and other N indicators

It is surprising that noone has commented on a subject of such importance to Empty Property Officers.   Please comment now on the first draft response below.   Thank you................................................................................................NAEPP will be responding separately on CLG’s other relevant current consultation:  Housing and Planning Delivery Grant – Consultation on allocation mechanism.   NAEPP notes the CLG statement in para 62 of that document that:“We recognise the argument made by many respondents in the first consultation that bringing empty properties into housing use increases the supply of housing in the same way as building new homes.”  NAEPP is therefore surprised that the logic of this recognition is missing from the National Indicator (NI) proposals.   The two documents need to be consistent:  particularly as the Housing and Planning Delivery Grant document proposes using NI 154 for measuring net additions above 0.75% of existing stock for the Housing Element of Housing and Planning Delivery Grant.  NAEPP appreciates the Government’s desire to reduce the indicator burden on local authorities, and the weaknesses in Best Value Performance Indicator (BVPI) 64.   However NAEPP considers that NI 154 could be usefully adapted to reflect the logic of the CLG quotation above.  The NI 154 draft definition puts gains through change of use or conversion on a par with new build completions.   NAEPP proposes that long term unoccupied dwellings restored to occupation be similarly included in this formula.  NAEPP proposes that  long term unoccupied dwellings be defined as those unoccupied at least two years.   The benefits of this vacancy threshold would be:

  • It would be consistent with the revised threshold (from January 2008) for the 5% VAT rate on works of renovation or alteration.
  • Such a long period would eliminate any scope for misuse that the looser definition of BVPI 64 may have provided.
  • Such a long vacancy would normally suggest a problem requiring a catalyst for change.   It would therefore be unnecessary to demonstrate that occupation had been as a direct result of local authority action.   (NAEPP notes that the draft formula does not require the local authority to demonstrate that it has caused any changes of use or conversions, other than by granting planning permission.)

  

I really like your proposal, it hooks the bringing back of empties into the planning/housing area where I've already got a few links but could do with the extra focus this would bring and going for the over 2 years ones would cut the load and help focus efforts on the sticky ones.Jane O'Brien (East Herts District Council) 

1-2.  I would like to see an extra NI but an adaptation of NI 154 is probably the best we could get. 3.Since I believe that it is unrealistic to have a new NI, then I agree that adapting NI 154 is our best option.  Looking at a graph of how many Empty Homes (declared as such by their owner to Council Tax) there are in Luton against time, the decay curve indicates that it is after the 4 year point that Empty Homes appear much more likely to stay empty.  [However, I must admit that my feeble skills, when it comes to statistical analysis, cannot verify this significance.]   4.Regardless of my theory, I believe that we must take into account those people who complain about the condition of the property, especially the neighbours who are facing a drop in value of their property thanks to the Empty Home being next to them.  If we leave the definition of an Empty Home with too long a lead-in period, then we will be criticized for ignoring the property while it falls apart. I would propose that the minimum vacancy period should be 18 months - At this point I believe that we can still change the mind of those who are undecided about what to do with their Empty House.  If we leave it much longer than it appears that apathy sets in and it all becomes “too difficult” for the owner to act positively. 5.There have been several occasions in the past where a home has become occupied but, probably out of spite, the owner will not acknowledge that it was my ‘encouragement’ that was significant in returning the property to the housing stock.  If I did not have to produce evidence that, on the balance of probabilities, it was my encouragement that was the cause of the change, then I could commit the “BVPI 64 sin” and claim any property that came back into use within a year or so of my sending the owner a letter! 6.I agree that data reliability is a major factor here.  I know of an Empty Home that, even with bedroom windows smashed, still has the owner claiming that a single person occupies it…  If we try to remove error by extending the time before a property becomes an Empty Home, then we should not introduce doubt elsewhere.7.  I am also deluded enough to think that the 2 year vacancy period to qualify for 5% VAT should be reduced to 18 months and that a property’s VAT should be 0% after 4 years, perhaps even 3 years!  A month or so ago this would have been wishful thinking, but the current climate at the Treasury might mean that they acknowledge their error and correct it…   

  1. The biggest problem (outside of NAEEP’s control) is the governments mixed messages. I can see these changes moving empty homes back down the profile of priorities thereby loosing the momentum gained in tackling the issue over the past few years. If it is not a publicised performance indicator in its own right, it may no longer be considered “important” in some LA areas.
  2. Although BVPI 64 may have been ‘misused’, it still assisted in the contributing toward setting up of successful Rent Deposit Schemes and brought empty homes up the scale of local government priorities to tackle. Its removal without a similar replacement I fear is a retrograde step in this arena as attention and resources will be put in to meeting the revised BVPI’s and not tackling empty homes.
  3. Although I can see the logic of 2 Year definition to tie in with the new BVPI, this may allow local authorities to set this as a benchmark for long term empties when the government has defined this in EDMO’s as 6 months. Again therefore mixed messages are being sent. It may also give an implied ‘credence’ to property owners who leave properties empty for this period.

 I hope these brief ramblings make sense. Overall I am afraid the problem is the government’s inability to set and stick with clear goals and objectives. The consultation paper I saw which covered Housing Planning and Delivery Grant barely mentioned empty homes and when it did it was not even in the form of a proper sentence. Barry Garner

I think this is very good, and agree with all of it except the two years qualifying period, which I think should be six months to reflect the cut-off date for automatic council tax rebates.  I see the point about the VAT period, but we are keen to see that reduced to a year or six months (and zero-rating, ideally) so we'd rather not risk lending the two-year period any spurious credibility if we can help it.  I can also see the sense in your argument about LA agency but, as you point out, the Government isn't demanding proof of causation with the existing NIs - LAs don't, as a rule, deliver new build housing.The only other comment I'd make is that, given the explicit statement in the NIs consultation paper that they're not asking for views on definitions, we need to be a bit more forceful about the need to include empty homes at this late stage.  I'd also recommend NAEPP send a covering letter asking for a meeting with the officials concerned, and follow it up until they say yes.  We'll be doing the same, linked to the HPDG consultation.Henry Oliver(Policy Adviser, Empty Homes Agency)

Below is a second draft submission.   It is substantially revised:  particularly in discussing alternative vacancy thresholds.The Herts, Beds &  Bucks Empty Homes Forum voted yesterday on these alternative vacancy thresholds:noone favoured 6 months;5 favoured 1 year;7 favoured 2 years.I would particularly welcome comments on whether our submission should propose alternative vacancy thresholds, or only one;  and if only one, what that should be.   Thank you...................................................................................................Background  NAEPP welcomes the following statements in other recent relevant CLG proposals:v     “Housing and Planning Delivery Grant (HPDG) – Consultation on allocation mechanism”:§         “We recognise the argument made by many respondents in the first consultation that bringing empty properties into housing use increases the supply of housing in the same way as building new homes.” (para 61)§          â€œWe will require local authorities to have put in place an effective empty homes strategy to be eligible for grant.” (para 63)v     “Homes for the future:  more affordable, more sustainable” (chapter 4):Ø       â€œWhen empty homes are left empty for years, they can undermine communities, be a magnet for crime and a waste of valuable housing resources.   When looking at the need to increase housing supply, local councils, as part of their strategic housing role, need to reduce the number of homes that are left empty for long periods of time.” (para 7)Ø      “Councils will be expected to do more to bring long term empty homes back into use” (para 11)Ø      “At a time when new supply is a priority, local authorities should be working to ensure new properties are being occupied as homes and not remaining empty.” (para 13)Ø      “To have new developments where units are deliberately kept unoccupied cannot be acceptable at a time of growing demand pressures.” (para 14)NAEPP is therefore surprised that the logic of the above proposals is missing from the National Indicator (NI) proposals.   All these documents need to be consistent:  particularly as the CLG proposes using NI 154 for measuring net additions above 0.75% of existing stock for the Housing Element of Housing and Planning Delivery Grant.  Moreover NAEPP believes that ultimately the best test of effectiveness is delivery:  it is difficult to assess an empty homes strategy’s effectiveness without monitoring delivery.  NAEPP appreciates the Government’s desire to reduce the indicator burden on local authorities, and the weaknesses in Best Value Performance Indicator (BVPI) 64.   However NAEPP considers that NI 154 could be usefully adapted to reflect the logic of the CLG quotations above, without prejudicing the Government’s objectives.   If it is objected that NAEPP’s proposed adaptation below is less easily quantifiable than the existing elements of NI 154, it is nonetheless considerably more objectively quantifiable than some other National Indicators based on measurement of “satisfaction” and “perception”.  NAEPP proposal  The NI 154 draft definition puts gains through change of use or conversion on a par with new build completions.   NAEPP proposes that long term unoccupied dwellings restored to occupation be similarly included in this formula.     The formula would then read:“The net increase in dwelling stock over one year is calculated as the sum of new build completions, minus demolitions, plus any gains or losses through change of use and conversions and return to occupation of dwellings unoccupied over x months.”  This is consistent with the emphasis in “Homes for the future” on “homes that are left empty for long periods of time”.   It would also avoid distorting local authorities efforts in favour of vacant buildings with scope for conversion or change of use, at the expense of vacant dwellings without such scope.  NAEPP offers the options below for the vacancy threshold for this formula:  Six monthsAdvantage:  Corresponds with the vacancy threshold:

  • Formerly used for BVPI 64
  • Reported annually in the Housing Strategy Statistical Appendix
  • For ending Council Tax exemption C
  • For making an Empty Dwelling Management Order.

  Disadvantage:A threshold that low will include many transactional vacancies.  One year   Advantage: 

  • Corresponds to the vacancy threshold for ending Council Tax exemption A
  • Such a threshold would include far fewer transactional vacancies than six months.

 Two years Advantages:

  • Corresponds with the revised threshold (from January 2008) for the 5% VAT rate on works of renovation or alteration.
  • Such a long period would eliminate any scope for misuse that the looser definition of BVPI 64 may have provided.
  • Such a threshold would include very few transactional vacancies.   Therefore in most case it could reasonably be assumed that occupation resulted from local authority action.   (NAEPP notes that the draft formula does not require the local authority to demonstrate that it has caused any changes of use or conversions, other than by granting planning permission.)

  Graham Everett

The meeting was broadly speaking in favour of the proposals to attempt to have Empty Property work monitored as part of the increase in Housing supply as monitored by NI 154 - feeling that this tied in naturally with the increase in emphasis from the Mayor towards increasing housing including affordable housing.  However the majority view was more in support of the suggestions which have been made by the EHA regarding length of time vacant, feeling 6 months would be more suitable for a broad cross section of purposes. Another element to the measures which was proposed - which may ultimately be a more natural tie in to the HPDG consultation  - was to link levels of financial spend and resources to monitor delivery.Clearly the major issue for London members however was that relating to the length of time empty & I think we need to acknowledge this when finalising our final submission.Nick Caprara (for London Empty Property Forum)

Thank you for posting this.  On the whole I think it is excellent,  and the Empty Homes Agency will be saying very similar things.  The only exception is on the threshold, which we are convinced should be six months.We understand there are good reasons not to like six months; we fully acknowledge the counting discrepancies and abuses around BPVPI 64 and the difficulties of 'proving' a local authority's agency in bring a property back into to use.Admirably rigorous and principled though the views in favour of a year or more are, we think this is to misconstrue the Government's approach to measurement of housing performance, however.  DCLG is set on increasing the supply of housing.  That's it.  They are not detained by the delicacies of who is responsible and proving it.  The proposed arrangements for Housing and Planning Delivery Grant will not 'prove' LA agency in achieving higher housebuilding rates.  So we don't think we should impose a greater burden of proof on empty property work.As the draft NAEPP response points out, six months is the threshold used for several aspects of empty homes work (not least the official definition of long-term).  That, ultimately, is why the EHA thinks it should be the period used for NI 154 and HPDG.   

Agree with the above and it should be 6 months - in line with the EDMO rules

I do need your views before 21 December as to whether our submission should suggest alternative vacancy thresholds, or should adopt one of them. Thank you.As members' views vary on the vacancy threshold, personally I would prefer to offer alternatives. That way our basic proposal needn't be prejudiced by its link to a specific threshold which CLG may not favour.On the other hand, may offering alternatives suggest an organisation which can't reach a common view, whose voice may thereby carry less weight?

I personally favour a six months vacancy threshold:  particularly as CLG doesn't seem concerned who causes additional units for the purpose of NI 154.   However I favour NAEPP offering alternative vacancy thresholds:  recognising the merits of altenatives shows a mature approach.Keith Gunner (Southampton City Council)  

Please show in this forum before 3 December your views on these options:1. Whether to propose an extra NI, or adaptation of NI 154.Yes, I think we should propose another indicator. Retaining a separate NI emphasises the importance of empty homes work and will make it difficult for local authorities to ignore. 2.I f an extra NI, what it should be.I would suggest the percentage of properties empty over 6 months as a percentage of overall dwelling stock, paying no regard to tenure. This is in line with the move from Comprehensive Performance Assessment to Comprehensive Area Assessment ie simply focuses on factual information about areas without attempting to place too much emphasis on local authority "performance". The chances of CLG agreeing to such an indicator are slim but I thnk our main aim should be to build the case for suitable encouragement for empty homes work and this is the most powerful statement we can make. If we do not win this argument, we may well win others.One obstacle to adopting the above is that the Lifting the Burden taskforce has already asked for the equivalent CPA indicator to be suspended because of data issues. However, data issues will apply to any indicator we choose to try and adopt. If adaptation of NI 154: General comment: any counting of empty homes as part of N154 would need to be consistent with the main indicator and other measures.4. What minimum vacancy period. Personally I think 1 year rather than 6 months. A surprising number of properties empty for 6 months do seem still to be transactional empties in our experience ie the process of properties becoming reoccupied is underway but is taking more than 6 months. But for consistency with other measures 6 months would br right. We could argue to re-calibrate everything around 1 year. I don't know how much action people take at the 6 month mark - we simply write letters and I do someimes think it is better just to focus on the 1-year plus ones. 5. Whether the LA should need to show that it caused the reoccupation.No. Not consistent with the main indicator. 6. Whether the calculation should deduct dwellings becoming vacant for the same period. Yes. Otherwise the indicator is simply meaningless. How could one possibly defend an indicator supposed to measure net new homes that counted the number of vacant homes returned to use but not the new ones becoming vacant? We would make ourselves look stupid wouldn't we?This has implications for methodology. If you are using net figures you don't actually have to count the number of properties brought back into use and the number of new ones becoming empty. You simply look at the overall total of homes empty for over 6 months or however long. Very straightforward. Anything else. I don't see the proposal for a new indicator being an alternative to the proposed changes to N154.I don't agree with this often-expressed view that we must have a national indicator that meaures "local authority performance". Those sorts of performance indicators should be local, within an overall frameworkthat underlines the importance of empty homes work either through N154 or a separate indicator but mainly through assessments of local empty homes strategies and whether they are being implemented. We must be gluttons for punishment to want to impose a new performance regime on ourselves. David Gibbens Housing Enabling Manager, Exeter City Council

Having discussed this matter with a number of people I do not feel that lobbying for an additional NI to concentrate solely on empty homes work is a realistic option, no matter how we as practitioners feel about this matter.With regard to the  minimum vacancy period, I believe in the interest of consistency with legislation a 6 month exeption period would be more suitable & deliverable for authorities.  Nick Caprara, Project Manager, Harrow Council  

Just to clarify the proposed methodology - you count the long-term empties as described, and compare with the same figure for the previous year to arrive at your net change.David Gibbens Housing Enabling Manager, Exeter City Council

Following all the comments received, and discussion today with our chair (Nick Caprara), our submission is the second draft above with these amendments:

  • discussing vacancy threshold options, but expressing a preference on balance for six months
  • not expressly referring to the number of dwellings becoming vacant for the threshold period, but offering to discuss further the methodology for quantifying the number returned to use (which could include whether the figure should be net or gross).