Empty Homes can be costly to leave empty, but reap rewards if restored

Image shows a property in Potterhanworth, before and after restoration.
With owners of long-term empty homes facing council tax bills up to four times higher than for occupied properties, this Empty Homes Week they are advised to seek support and guidance to help bring them back in to use.

With owners of long-term empty homes facing council tax bills up to four times higher than for occupied properties, this Empty Homes Week they are advised to seek support and guidance to help bring them back in to use. 

Around 275 empty homes have been brought back into use across North Kesteven through the targeted intervention and involvement of a specific District Council initiative, over the past 13 years or so.

Not only do empty homes represent a lost opportunity for someone to be accommodated and contribute to community life, but they can be a target for damage and anti-social behaviour, cause environmental harm and present a danger. They are also a costly burden for their owners, requiring maintenance, failing to draw an income, and costing potentially thousands of pounds a year in charges.

While there is a council tax discount that can be applied for the first few months of a property’s vacancy, if a house remains empty for more than a year it is now charged at double the full charge of an occupied one. This is a new legislative requirement, lowering the threshold from two years. Charges escalate to three times the rate after five years and four times after 10 years. 

With changes in the laws relating to empty and second-homes varying the levels of council tax discounts and liabilities that apply from April 1, owners are advised to familiarise themselves with these.

After two years of standing empty, the Council’s multi-discipline Empty Property Working Group pays particular attention to try and identity ownership, liaise and unlock barriers to refurbishment and promote to owners potential VAT reductions or other incentives to restoration and re-habitation. 

Of the 493 homes currently known to have been empty for six months or more, 79 have been empty for two or more years, 17 for five or more years and 15 for ten years or longer. 

One long-term empty which has been brought back into use with help from the Council’s initiative is in Potterhanworth. Unoccupied since 2018, it was bought by Trent Valley Development Ltd in 2020, and given the extensive intervention required to bring it back into use, took a further two years to fulfil.

The property needed a considerable amount of work as it had been untouched for many years with single pane wooden-framed windows and doors, overgrown garden and brick and stonework requiring significant work externally. Inside, it needed new kitchen, bathroom, heating system and electrical work for this major refurbishment work.

By liaising with North Kesteven District Council’s Empty Homes Officer, the company was provided with an entitlement to access a discount that reduced to 5% the VAT paid on the renovation works. Support in understanding opportunities to  reduce or remove the liability to pay VAT on materials when renovating a property derelict for two or more years can make a significant difference in terms of project viability and long-term success

Trent Valley Developments director Stephen Pope said: 

“Being property developers and having a portfolio of rented properties, the opportunity to purchase dwellings that are empty, run down and dilapidated and refurbish them to modern standards at reduced-rate VAT is an enormous benefit. 

"Even more so for private individuals who, we understand, would benefit from zero-rate VAT if the property is for their own occupation.

“North Kesteven District Council is a local authority that is proactive in returning these properties back into use. 

"From the empty homes officer through to the planning department, they work with you in a most professional and rewarding way and we really valued that relationship.”

The restoration of any empty home carries far-reaching benefits to a local community; not least as the new occupants support local shops, schools and facilities.

More than half of all known empty properties are second homes and about one tenth are caught in probate awaiting conclusion.

The Council has an annual target to bring 20 homes back into use, where they pay their way in terms of offering accommodation, bringing money into the economy and supporting community vitality. While in most years the rate is between 20 and 25, and last year was 27, this past year’s efforts to assist owners in returning their properties into use has only seen 13 successes as high materials costs, financial constraints and difficulties in securing tradespeople has hampered individuals’ progress.

North Kesteven District Council’s Chief Executive Ian Fytche said there were many ways in which owners could be assisted by the Council through the process of returning their assets to use, including seeking planning, technical or trades advice, facilitating marketing opportunities through auction, sale or rent and navigating legal and financial complications.

“Quite often we find that someone has inherited a property that they simply don’t know what to do with or where to start. 

"But through years of experience our officers can bring various aspects of local intelligence, practical support, advice and understanding of legal considerations, discounts and opportunities to bear which can quite literally unlock doors and barriers; bringing back into fruitful use some cherished and once-loved homes.

“I would like to encourage anyone who owns or is aware of a property that has been empty for six months or more, to seek out the advice of the Empty Homes Officer, and through him, guidance on practicalities, financial considerations such as VAT rebates and many related matters. 

"Not to do so can be costly in so many ways to so many; not least to community wellbeing and the escalation of council tax liabilities.”

More information can be found on the Council's Empty homes webpage. 

Or call the Empty Homes Officer on 01529 414155.

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