A new initiative has been deployed in North Kesteven to help owners of long-term empty houses bring them back into use as much-needed homes.
Under a new arrangement, the district council is working with energy providers E.ON on an imaginative project that aims to assist and accelerate action on 30 more empty homes over the next 15 months.
E.ON is now rolling out its project locally, in collaboration with NK’s Empty Homes Officer, to work with owners to establish what is needed to reverse the situation, provide financial advice with budgeting and building works with qualified local trades people.
The Council has long-placed an emphasis on bringing back into use properties that stand empty for six months or more and with a particular focus on properties that have been empty for over two years or more.
The Empty Homes project has assisted owners finding estate agents, given advice and information about selling at a property auction, providing assistance with VAT exemptions for buildings work on long-term properties, given details of property guardian schemes, the federation of builders, how to rent properties and becoming a landlord.
Every year at least 20 properties in North Kesteven are restored through the direct actions, interventions and support of the Empty Homes Officer working with owners, and last year 27 were supported back into use which has had positive knock-on benefits for communities, the local economy and the continuation of Council services.
Over the last decade there have been around 250 empties successfully brought back into use through direct Council intervention. The majority of these have been through assistance and encouragement but in some cases through enforcement action where properties are derelict, causing environmental harm or are a blight and source of anti-social behaviour in a neighbourhood.
As the Council’s direct actions focus on those properties than have been empty for years and present the greatest challenge, the E.ON initiative is designed to support owners of those properties that are struggling to transform due to a variety of reasons such as financing, knowledge, finding trades people or even being able to see a way to develop the property.
The scheme is supported by the Council’s Empty Homes Working Group, a multi-disciplined team of officers from all departments in property led by Executive Board member Cllr Ian Carrington.
Cllr Carrington said: “The Council is committed to bringing empty homes back into use through a range of measures designed to encourage and assist empty home owners to respond positively.
“An empty home brings nothing to the community it is in. All it does is attract complaints, vermin, anti-social behaviour and dereliction. It also brings an increased financial liability on owners as after a period they are charged twice the rate for council tax.
“The alternative is that when a house is brought back into use it brings value to the community as a home, where occupants can contribute to the life and vitality of the community, the local economy and local services.”
North Kesteven currently has 468 privately owned empty properties which have been empty for more than six months and 96 of them have been empty for more than two years.
Any property which has been left empty for more than two years has to pay an additional premium for council tax which is currently 200% of the standard yearly charge. If the property is left empty for five years it will attract a 300% charge and, as from next year, a 400% charge will be levied on any home that has been empty for more than 10 years.
Central government actively encourages local councils like North Kesteven to take action to bring empty properties back into use but enforcement cannot be considered until the property has been empty for more than two years.
“The main source of information about empty homes comes through council tax data but alerts are also raised by members of the public, parish councils and external agencies,” said Cllr Carrington.
Responding to that information is the Council’s Empty Homes Officer Stewart James who is able to offer owners advice and information around the various options for selling properties, rental and letting options and renovation which combine with government initiatives and local private sections like the E.ON Empty Homes Solution.
Mr James said: “We are keen to work with owners of long term vacant properties to bring them back into use by offering advice and assistance as an alternative to having to take enforcement action. However, our experience shows that many owners with empty properties may feel there is too much work to do, they lack the time required, or they simply don’t know where to start when it comes to bringing their property back into use.”
E.ON are currently working on two empty homes projects – the one in North Kesteven and another in North East Derbyshire.
Residential Solutions Director at E.ON UK, Nigel Dewbery said: “Working with North Kesteven District Council we aim to tackle the problem of empty properties and help to bridge the gap in the current UK housing shortage by bringing these properties back into a habitable condition.
“At E.ON we offer a range of energy solutions to meet our customers’ needs to ensure homes can be as energy efficient as possible and this is an example of us looking at how we can provide a more holistic approach to supporting wider communities.”
The empty homes scheme has been designed to offer tailored solutions to owners who need help. E.ON offers a free, no obligation survey to owners so that what the property needs to bring it back to a habitable standard can be established.
Once the survey is completed and the owner is happy with the recommendations, E.ON can fully manage the refurbishment to ensure the property is brought back into use. Alternatively, E.ON can offer support to owners choosing to do the work themselves or through a third party.
If you have a home that has been empty for six months or more and want to find out more you can email firstname.lastname@example.org