How Can We Maximise the Number of Empty Properties

Empty Homes Programme
Stocktake Report
February 2014
Tackling Empty Homes is a Ministerial
priority & numbers are reducing
Why is it important to address empty homes?
• Ministerial priority
• Commitment in Lib Dem manifesto & coalition
Housing Strategy.
• Potentially cost effective and sustainable way to
increase affordable housing supply
• Economic/social benefits incl. employment, training,
neighbourhood renewal & reduction in ASB/crime
• Move away from Pathfinder policies of demolition to
a focus on locally led refurbishment & regeneration
Number of empty homes is reducing
• 14% reduction in Empty Homes between 2010 &
• More than 93,000 empty homes brought back
into use since 2011 – more than 38,000 between
October 2012 & October 2013
• Birmingham (1,466) & Liverpool (1,244) returned
more empties in 2013 than any other authority
• Provision of £235m funding through Empty
Homes Programme
• Councils being offered New Homes Bonus on
homes created from empty property
• Introduction of Council Tax premium on long term
empty homes and discretion for councils to
remove Council Tax exemption on short term
Challenges and Successes
Projects taking 9 -12 months to establish
Enforcement procedures take longer than
Programme timescales
Projects are refurbishing empties to create high
quality homes
Innovative ways of identifying empty homes
Identification of Empty Homes more difficult than
programme assumes
Additional social benefits such as employment,
training & neighbourhood renewal
Negotiations with owners can be difficult & time
Creation of learning and expertise across
Programme strands
Lack of resource capacity to tackle empty homes
Difficulties engaging with mortgage lenders
Lack of understanding of flexibility of programme by
some practitioners
LA Cluster funding cannot be clawed back
Developing models to deliver sustainable
programme when funding ends
Delivery models adapted to fit local contexts
Genuine enthusiasm & desire by delivery
organisations to continue to tackle issues
The wider social benefits are a real success
of scheme & should be celebrated
Specific communities led strand, highlights importance of delivering additional social impacts
Focus on empty homes, not empty houses but success only measured against housing units delivered
Housing Strategy, business case & application guidance highlight importance of delivering social benefit
Monitoring data of softer impacts rarely collected by DCLG. Delivery organisations have the information but
have no consistent or organised way of reporting
Focuses on hardest to tackle properties which can take longer to bring back into use, but have greatest
social benefits
Examples of additional social benefits include:
Employment &
• Community Campus, Teesside providing 15 jobs & 17 apprenticeships
• Somerset Care & Repair developing employment skills/qualifications
with local prisoners
• VCS projects (i.e. Windrush Alliance) keen to use local contractors to
boost local economy
cohesion &
• Five year tenancies to build continuity & strengthen communities
• Stoke’s regeneration of problematic neighbourhoods & rebuilding of
communities through range of different tenants
• Neighbourhood renewal, helping to tackle problems with vandalism,
anti social behaviour & drugs
benefits &
other policies
• Provides catalyst for others to refurbish their homes – LAs would like
to count these against their Empty Homes targets
• Increasing housing stock could help tackle homelessness
• Multi agency approach joining with other DCLG policies including
Troubled Families to tackle wider causes and issues
Measuring social impact is hard, but it can
be done
Hard to achieve value for money with hard outputs alone, so must take wider benefits into account
Measuring outputs only tells half the story - measuring softer outcomes as well can present a more
accurate assessment of success
Uncertainty exists about how to collect data on outcomes in robust format.
Some data has been provided by organisations, but has tended to be ad hoc and can be inconsistent
Social impacts are measured over long term & may be difficult to judge by 2015
Hard to prove causal links between programme & wider social outcomes in crowded policy landscape
Ways to measure softer outcomes
Measuring proxy data on employment, crime,
property prices & planning applications can
illustrate indirect impacts of policy
Other sources incl. Integrated Household Survey,
Quality of Life surveys, British Crime Survey & British
Social Attitudes Survey, may show some impacts
Monitoring of social impacts alongside outputs as
part of regular data returns
Regular assessment of cases studies, with evidence
from interviews, surveys, focus groups & visits
Economic based theories such as Social Return on
investment place monetary value on social benefits
Systematic assessment of social impacts, similar to
Tribal’s £10,000 evaluation of VCS strand
Identifying empty homes is difficult, with no
guarantee of engaging with owners
Identifying empty homes
Why don’t empty home owners engage?
• Empty owners can be irrational in decision making
- understanding their needs can be complex &
time consuming
• Some show enthusiasm during negotiations, only
to drop out at the last minute
• Identification is resource intensive & costly - many
organisations don’t have staff to dedicate to
systematically search for properties
• May be waiting for property to appreciate in value
& not want to engage immediately
• Council Tax & Land Registry records are common
source of info but can be incomplete/inaccurate
• But, can be irrational/contradictory & some don’t
want to invest for long term & want more control
over tenancies
• Many organisations use leaflets and letters to
target owners, but these tend to have poor
response rates
• Can be harder to engage with owners for Lease &
Repair scheme if they feel social rents are too low,
& private rented sector is more lucrative; or if they
are put off by social tenants
• Multiple websites for public to report empties, but
no effective central resource – could be
developed to create more coherent reporting tool
• Some properties bought by investment groups, to
use as security for borrowing – they have little
intention of finding tenants
• Landlords may be more attracted by other grants
allowing them to let to private tenants for higher
Despite these issues, we identified lots of
examples of best practice
Delivery agents are using a variety of techniques to identify and engage with empty home owners
Windrush Alliance used contacts in community & local media to identify
a number of properties
Local networks can be a good way to identify empties - many VCS
organisations use local communities to identify empties
Good working relationships with LAs seen as crucial by smaller VCS
organisations to identify properties & find tenants
Bristol YMCA used local estate agents to source properties - effective
approach but can be expensive
AGMA (Empty to Plenty) & Kent County Council (No Use Empty)
created strong brands & used social media to engage with empty home
Thanet Council use auctions to identify properties, avoiding resource
intensive negotiations with owners
Discussions with Council of Mortgage Lenders to develop mechanisms
of reporting empty home owners in breach of mortgages
• – collaboration by voluntary orgs & Channel 4
enabling public to report empty homes. Submits information direct to
LAs. More than 9,500 reports since 2008
Enforcement is an essential tool for Local
Authorities, but takes too long
Council Tax
• Seen as effective way of engaging with empty home owners
• LAs use as stick for owners, giving financial motivation to engage &
increasing number of homes available
• Can be costly for Agents liable for council tax premium once
property is purchased & refurbishment is underway
• Some owners falsify occupancy when levy is threatened by
‘furnishing properties’
Orders (CPOs)
• Can be effective, but only as last resort
• Can take between 9 & 24 months to apply – streamlining process
may increase effectiveness & take up
• LAs would like a more systematic process with CPOs triggered
when certain level of evidence presented to reduce appeals
• Length of process disproportionate to length of project
(EDMOs) &
• Once EDMO is applied lasts for between one (interim EDMO) and
seven years (Full EDMO) – but owners can sell property at any time
• Few LAs use EDMOs - seen as too complex & time consuming
• Debt management notices, s215 & environmental orders can be
quicker & more effective for LAs to take control of empties & are
more likely to be used to engage or take control of properties
There is scope and desire to build on existing good
practice to develop stronger Programme coherence
Good Practice, Knowledge Sharing & Information Provision is Taking Place
E.g. AGMA and HCA Yorkshire have formed practitioner groups to highlight best
practice, build capacity and discuss issues
These groups involved organisations from across delivery stands and often outside
of the geographic area.
A range of good, well-branded online and paper resources both nationally (e.g. and locally (e.g. No Use Empty in Kent)
However this is not consistent across all of the Programme
Activities to join up strands are patchy countrywide, with some groups (e.g. Wind
rush CIC) feeling excluded from LA-led discussions
Practitioner Groups are formed only in areas that have the resource
Some LAs reported a need to bring the scheme to the attention of all (e.g. Chief
Support available to community groups through Self–Help-Housing is of good
quality but is over stretched
There is a desire for more support, encouragement & recognition from central
Diversity of websites (particularly nationally focused ones) can make the
programme appear disparate and fragmented
Our recommendations could enhance
Programme delivery between now & 2015
Develop thorough & systematic mechanism
to measure additional social impacts of
Empty Homes Programme
DCLG, HCA & Tribal to proactively highlight
& encourage use of flexibilities within
existing programme to practitioners to
maximise delivery by 2015
Ensure Empty Homes Programmes remains
on agenda for DCLG and Cross Whitehall
engagement with Council of Mortgage
Lenders (CML)
Practical suggestions for increased delivery
Collect evidence of additional social benefit from practitioners
Consider counting empty homes that have been returned to use
as an indirect result of Empty Homes Programme
Clarify freedom to switch between Lease/Repair &
Purchase/Repair models
Consider requests for limited localised demolition and/or
relaxation of social/affordable housing criteria where clear
benefits identified
Support LAs to give them confidence to use
full range of enforcement tools
Strengthen identity of Empty Homes
Programme, through central and local
communication celebrating success and sharing
best practice; making it easy to record empty
Highlight benefits to CML, including attracting new customers &
stable rents from previously empty homes
Sharing of empty homes information between LAs and
mortgage lenders
Encourage flexible application of Council Tax premiums, to
engage empty home owners, but to recommend relaxing 150%
premium while refurbishment is taking place
Encourage sharing of enforcement knowledge & best practice
between LAs
Improved knowledge sharing across different strands
Single interface to provide information/support & central empty
homes reporting mechanism
Annex A – Wider Social Benefits Case Study
The Grand Trunk Hotel - ARK Churches Wirral
Wirral Churches ARK & The Grand Trunk Hotel
Provides support & guidance to adults at risk of
homelessness and assistance in finding suitable,
long term accommodation
Received £105k from the Empty Homes Fund –
used as part of £400k project
Took pub which was empty for nearly 10 years &
created sheltered housing
Created six self contained flats for homeless
people in need of long term support
Also created office space for organisation
Wider social benefits
Encountered problems with local community when project first agreed – campaign to try and block
development supported by local councillor, as community were worried about the impact of sheltered
accommodation in their neighbourhood
Wirral ARK worked hard to break down barriers with locals & put themselves at the heart of the
community, including providing and maintaining hanging baskets on elderly residents’ homes
Have transformed a building that had blighted area for a number of years – at one stage having been
taken over by Hell’s Angels who used it as a base for drug taking & other criminal activity
Have provided suitable accommodation for six homeless people. Flats are fully self contained and offer
freedom & independence for residents, while removing some dependency on the welfare state
Working hard to become part of the local community built links and broke down opposition – This has
enabled organisation, residents and community to benefit.
Annex B – Enforcement Case Study
Newcastle City Council
Newcastle City Council Cluster Programme
£490k Empty Homes funding to deliver 116 empty
4 clusters - 2 selective licensing areas with 6001,000 private properties & 2 smaller areas
Funding used to finance grants & loans. Have found
grants effective way to persuade owners to engage
More than 1,200 long term empties in Newcastle
125 empties brought back into use by March 2014
A multi option approach to enforcement
Enforcement is used to encourage empty home owners to engage with the programme. Newcastle City Council
used the following approach on 18 properties, vacant for between 1 & 8 years, all owned by the same person:
Good condition no enforcement action undertaken
2. Tenant Finder Service offered (declined)
3. Lease and purchase options offered (declined)
4. Empty homes grants and loans offered (declined)
5. EDMO application started
6. Owner applies for grant assistance
7. EDMO application restarted
8. Tenant Finder Service re-offered
This approach has created 5 properties competed, a further 5 under
Renovation. No sign of first 5 being occupied (grant only paid on occupation)
Annex C – Flexibility Case Study
• AGMA were awarded £3.6m for their Empty
• Within Greater Manchester boundaries there
were an estimated 13,500 long term empty
• This equates to circa 31% of the council
housing waiting list
• AGMA’s target was to bring 343 empty homes
back into use through the programme
• By Sept 2013, 138 had been brought back into
Programme Flexibility - Reinvesting funds
• Used flexibility to reinvest money made from
empty homes
• A particular property cost £40k to bringing
back into use was later sold for £60k
• The original £40k investment and the £20k
“profit” was then put into another property,
creating a recyclable scheme
Programme Flexibility - Clusters
• Found only four areas across Manchester
eligible for cluster funding
• In Openshaw there were enough empty homes
to count as a cluster but they were not located
sufficiently close to qualify
• AGMA used other stands of EH funding to
redevelop housing and delivered broader
regeneration in the area
• This is encouraging other property owners to
make improvements to their homes
Annex D – Flexibility Case Study
Pennine Lancashire
• Pennine Lancashire were awarded £9.5m for
their Empty Homes programme
• Within the Pennine Lancashire area there
were 5,912 long term empty homes
• This equates to 49% of the council housing
waiting list
• Target of 457 long term empty homes
brought back in to use
• By September 2013, 71 empty homes had
been brought back in to use
Selective demolition has helped transform
localities. The costs of restoring two properties
were cited at twice the market value of
refurbished homes, preventing development and
guaranteeing bad VfM.
Programme Flexibility - Affordable Housing
• With more programme flexibility, felt they could
achieve better results
• Greater flex on affordable housing would
increase eligibility and help target more
• Affordable housing supply is not an issue in
many Pennine Lancashire areas – they want to
attract more private tenants and owners to
restored properties
• Supply of Affordable Homes is strong enough
that a narrower focus risks displacement
Programme Flexibility- Demolition
• Would like to undertake selective demolition
• Some empty properties were so structurally
damaged that it was costing more to redevelop
them than it would be to demolish them and
build again
• Demolition on previous HMR programme was
not widespread but generally worked well
• Demolition proposed in very limited
circumstances and on a handful of homes
to clear arson damage
Annex E – Joining Up Case Study
HCA Yorkshire and Humber
HCA Y&H has developed a Good Practice Group to build capacity and
knowledge structures both for this Programme and beyond 2015.
Early identification of the need to share good practice and problem solve
because little refurbishment work had taken place for years.
Unilaterally established a quarterly good practice group
Initially only invited practitioners linked to their programme however
recognised that wider capacity-building was need
Broadened participation to involve organisations from others EHP strands
and LAs who were not part of the programme
The Group actively invites speakers from across the country to enhance
learning from a range of sources and perspectives
However, could only do this because of motivated individuals – Not as part of the Programme
Example of Benefits
Many practitioners where not aware of costly compliance audits and had not built them into their
financial forecasts. The Yorkshire and Humber HCA Group has helped by:
Creating wider awareness of compliance audits.
Developing a streamlined compliance process.
Members have volunteered to compliance audit each other (cost free )
The group is now considering sharing Empty Homes Officers across LA boundaries.
Annex F
– Our Research
Using an agreed Questions Framework established from an analysis of major programme issues, we undertook a series of
one hour face-to-face interviews with organisations from across the various strands of the Empty Homes Programme.
Campaigning Groups and
Community Groups and
Local Authorities
Alliance CIC
South and South West
East and South East
Yorkshire and Humber
North East
North West
Policy Team and
Former Policy Team

similar documents