There are enough empty properties in England & Wales to provide homes to over a million people. Everyone agrees that it makes sense to bring empty homes back into use to help reduce housing need. But it is not just the issue of wasted housing – long term empty homes can have a major adverse affect on a neighbourhood:
- Nuisance to neighbours
- Adverse effect on the amenity of an area – property values can fall by up to 18%
- Reduction in confidence in the area, which can lead to a downward spiral
- Problems with vandalism, arson and squatting – can act as magnet for alcohol/drug abuse
Local authorities are the key partners in trying to resolve the problems associated with these long term empty properties. Local authorities will always be the first point of contact for concerned members of the public and local Councillors; indeed local residents are increasingly using websites to hold local authorities to account over problem properties. There are a considerable range of powers available to deal with problem long term empty homes and many Local Authorities fail to utilise them effectively.
- Housing Act 2004 (Housing Conditions)
- Building Act 1984 (Ruinous & Dilapidated, Dangerous Structures)
- Environmental Protection Act 1990 (Statutory Nuisance)
- Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949 (Harbourage and Treatment of Rats & Mice)
- Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 (Securing Properties)
- Town & Country Planning Act 1990 (Detrimental to the Amenities – Street Scene)
- Compulsory Purchase Orders (Housing and Planning)
- Enforced Sales Procedure (Debt Recovery)
- Empty Dwelling Management Orders (Management of Empty Homes)
For an authority to be effective, there needs to be a corporate approach to the problem. However, as there is such a diverse range of legislation, there is often lack of understanding about its use and how different departments within the Local Authority can play their part. Andrew Lavender has been Project Consultant to the Kent Empty Property Initiative since its inception in 2005, a project which has now brought 4,600 long term empty properties back into use to help households seeking decent housing and secured in excess of £45 Million investment into empty homes in Kent.
He has also been appointed by the Welsh Local Government Association to support the Welsh Government and the twenty two Local Authorities in implementing the £30 Million Welsh Empty Property Initiative “Houses into Homes” and £10 Million Private Sector Home Improvement Loan Scheme.
He is a nationally recognised authority on this area of work not least for his innovative and determined use of enforcement procedures and regularly speaks at national conferences as well as delivering many training courses. Lavender & Wilson are in a unique position to be able to offer consultancy drawing on their extensive knowledge and experience built up during these very successful projects.
Returning long term empty homes back into use is a social imperative at a time when housing need has never been higher. It is also a time of financial restraint and local authorities should be maximising their potential income and returning long term empty homes back to use is an effective way to do this. Lavender & Wilson can help through:
- Awareness building workshops
Awareness building workshops
Awareness building workshop for members and senior officers can help greatly to raise the profile of the empty homes issue. The aim is to foster corporate commitment to the empty homes initiative – experience shows they help greatly in giving impetus to strategic and policy decisions and can help make the initiative work more effectively (for example delegation of enforcement powers).
Andrew Lavender has built on his experience over the past 10 years to develop a comprehensive range of empty homes training courses. Courses range from one day through to extended courses up to six days. The courses focus on practical skills that will be used operationally, including drafting a range of notices, assessing validity of notices (common defects) and tactical use of the different approaches and legislation. This enables local authorities to become more effective, ensuring officers time is used more efficiently and appropriate debt recovery procedures are in place. To date we have helped local authorities recover in excess of £1 Million from charges that had not been actively pursued. The courses can be tailored to meet the specific needs of your organisation.
During his eleven years leading the Kent Empty Property Initiative / No Use Empty Project, nationally recognised as an innovative partnership approach to dealing with empty homes. Andrew has achieved a significant level of knowledge and experience in bringing problem empty homes back into use. Andrew has been instrumental in supporting the Welsh Government, Welsh Local Government Association and the 22 Local Authorities in developing and implementing their National Welsh Empty Property Initiative “Houses into Homes”. If you are interested in developing an effective regional or local authority approach to empty homes, Andrew can provide consultancy based on proven success.
Alternatively, you may have some long standing cases that have now become a priority for your authority and the lack resources or skills to deal with them. We can provide independent practical advice, including providing an options paper setting out the different approaches available and identify the most appropriate course of action.
We can support you through the various steps as and when you require assistance, ensuring that costs are kept to a minimum.
Both directors have extensive experience of litigation and surveying in contentious cases, including Magistrates Court, Crown Court, County Court and First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber). Often a single day of consultancy can unlock the local authority’s ability to deal with their very worst properties and most difficult owners.
If you want a more hands on approach, then we can inspect the property, prepare any paperwork / notices and manage the case through to conclusion including:
- Statutory Enforcement – full range of legislation
- Enforced Sales Procedure
- Compulsory Purchase Orders
- Empty Dwelling Management Orders
We would encourage officers to be fully involved at each stage to ensure that officers maximise their knowledge and gain the confidence to use similar procedures in the future. In many cases where action is being considered under the Housing Act 2004 or an enforced sales, these costs can be fully recovered – meaning there is no overall cost to the local authority.
If you would like to have a discussion about your difficult cases, then do not hesitate to contact us for free impartial advice.
The new homes bonus is a system which rewards local authorities for providing new homes whether through new build or returning empty homes to use. The system provides two incentives for bringing empty homes into use:
- A council receives rewards for empty homes that are returned to use
- An increase in empty homes numbers could reduce the reward for newly built homes
The system does not differentiate between homes a council was actively involved in providing and those that it was not – it simply rewards the annual net increase in homes in the local authority area. If the number of empty homes increases a council could lose out on rewards it might have otherwise received for newly built homes. For example, if 100 new homes were built, but there had been a net increase of 25 empty homes during the year, the local authority reward would be for the net increase of 75 homes. The amount of reward a council receives is calculated based on the council tax banding of each property brought into use, and gives the authority the national average council tax figure for the band of each property involved. This payment is made for each of the six years after the new home is created. Of course, a council will in addition receive the actual council tax from the occupier. An affordable housing supplement of £350 also runs for each of the 6 years, and that amount does not vary for different bands of property. Information on the New Homes Bonus.