National Empty Homes Week
During National Empty Homes Week, North Kesteven District Council is ramping up its local response to what has become known as the Great British Property Scandal – long-term empty homes.
Through its long-standing proactive approach to bringing empty homes back into use as a vital contribution to the need for housing locally, the Council has achieved 13 successes so far this year, on top of the 19 delivered during 2011/12.
With 197 of the North Kesteven’s 703 known empties in private ownership having been vacant for more than two years, there is a focussed strategy for working to restore them back into homes; partly in support of the 1,200 people on the District’s housing waiting list.
The profile of this work has been raised in recent weeks through a continuation of the Channel 4 series The Great British Property Scandal which details how there are one million empty homes – 350,000 of which have been empty for six months or more – at a time when two million families are in need of a home.
In a further drive to profile the importance of bringing empties back into use – not only to satisfy housing demand but also contribute to stronger, safer, more attractive communities and the economic wellbeing of both the owners receiving rental or sales income and local businesses benefitting as suppliers - empty homes have been given a national week of action and awareness from November 25 to 31.
During the week, and with the Great British Property Scandal continuing, NKDC continues to work with the owners of empty homes to bring them back into use. Empty homes are a wasted resource at a time of high housing need and officers in the council are working tirelessly to bring back into use as many as possible.
The 197 long-term empties form the primary focus of the Council’s work, being the most troublesome to deal with – receiving most complaints, involving complex negotiation and drawing on the skills and knowledge of various Council departments to define the best course of action.
In addition, the designated Empty Homes Officer offers advice and information to owners, inspiring them to act and helping to put together bespoke packages of support to maximise opportunities.
As well as the collaborative and coercive approach the Council adopts to support owners, there are a series of powers available with which it can take a strong lead. These include an Empty Dwelling Management Order, the first of which the Council achieved in a pioneering move to deal with a property in Washingborough.
It can also carry out an enforced sale to recoup a debt owed to the council, or as a last resort the council has powers to compulsory purchase an empty property.
Other tools include options to repair and take on management of an empty property, leasing it out and paying the owner an income over seven years, and NKDC is even working with partners to develop a local letting agency to manage the letting on behalf of owners who can contact the Council to register their property.
Councillor Stewart Ogden, NKDC’s Executive Board Member for Housing, said every case was complex with its own unique complications, but through collaboration they were being resolved.
“We rely on strong partnership working, involving parish and town councils, local residents, and other statutory agencies like the police, fire service and Social Services to create a picture of the homes which are empty in our District, the issues, circumstances and stories behind them and solutions, he said.
“Together with officers across many disciplines within the Council, we are working through the caseload and enjoying great success in bringing back to use empty homes all across the District, which restores neighbourhoods and supports stronger, more vibrant communities.
During this latest series of Property Scandal we have received three fresh referrals from the public nominating empty homes they feel are in need of action; last year there were 30 or more. This shows how important it is to residents that the blight of empty homes is dealt with proactively.
The empty homes policy at www.n-kesteven.gov.uk/residents/housing/empty-homes details how the Council works to bring homes back into use.
Residents are encouraged to report any empty property causing them concern, and owners to seek help and advice on restoring their property to use, by calling Empty Homes Officer Luke Taylor on 01529 414155, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or through www.lincsemptyhomes.org.uk