Empty Homes is an independent charitable organisation campaigning for more empty homes to be brought into use for the benefit of those in housing need.
Empty Homes was established in 1992 to try to ensure that empty homes in England are brought back into use for those in housing need. We have built our reputation not only as a campaigning charity, but also in developing practical ideas on how to bring empty homes back into use. These ideas have been adopted as national policy and also local practice. Our track record of campaigning has put the charity in a good position to influence decision makers and to do more to tackle the waste of empty homes in England.
Our focus is on ensuring empty homes are brought back into use for those priced out of decent housing across England or in housing need, for example due to disability or long-term health problems.
Our influence has been enhanced over two decades through building our reputation as the ‘go to’ place for media comment as well as through our thorough analysis of the causes of empty homes and what works in bringing them back into use.
As we approach our 25th anniversary in 2017, our desire to continue to raise the issues surrounding empty homes remains as strong as ever.
Our first 25 years of campaigning on Empty Homes.
The Empty Homes charity was established as the "Empty Homes Agency" in 1992 - John Major was Prime Minister, and it was the year that Britain left the European Exchange Rate Mechanism and Stella Rimington became the first female chief of MI5.
The charity's founder, Antony Fletcher, and founding director, the late Bob Lawrence, were both heavyweight figures in the UK housing world. Antony Fletcher had a long career in housing associations and worked in public policy. Bob Lawrence was cited by Inside Housing's obituary as "a giant" of housing, and he led the Empty Homes Agency for the first seven years of its existence.
Since those early days, the charity has employed a variety of different staff with different talents, including Ashley Horsey (now chief executive of Commonweal Housing) and David Ireland (now Director of the Building & Social Housing Foundation). It has sought to evolve and innovate in both its research work and its collaborations with others. But, in 25 years of evolution, it has never lost touch with its core principles and values, or its campaigning mission to bring empty homes into use as affordable housing for those in housing need.
In 1998, the charity was instrumental in securing National Lottery funding to establish the Community Action on Empty Homes programme. A year later, it was at the forefront of the National Approved Lettings Scheme, designed to give owners confident to let out their properties through lettings agents - and this scheme in still in existence today.
At the turn of the new Millennium, the charity provided secretariat support to kick start a national network of empty homes officers - pushing up the agenda in local authorities the development of empty property strategies. And in 2004, Empty Homes successfully led the campaign for Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMO’s) - and for their retention when the more sceptical Coalition government was subsequently elected.
Over the past decade, the charity's successes have included campaigning for a reduction in the VAT rate charged on building work needed to bring into use properties empty for two years or more, as well as a successful campaign for £160 million of dedicated funding from 2011-2015 to support housing providers and community organisations in bringing empty homes back into use. As a result, it is estimated that at least 6,000 empty properties were brought back into use - as well as associated apprenticeship and training spin-off benefits were created.
Achievements since 2013 have included allowing councils to charge more council tax on empty properties, and to remove automatic exemptions from council tax for short term empty property, as well as to extend the New Homes Bonus to long-term empty properties returned to use. All of these together act as an incentive to local authorities to work with property owners and community/housing organisations to bring empty properties back into use.
But what next? The world is changing, and the world of housing will need to continue to adapt and roll with ever-increasing amounts of social and political change afoot. Funding has been tightened, so it will be more important than ever that incentives are both smart and effective, and that creativity and vision exists to see empty homes as part of the solution, as well as part of the problem for the UK's housing stock.
Against this backdrop, Empty Homes, in the capable hands of current chief executive Helen Williams and with the oversight of its independent board, looks to target its energy on delivering evidence-based, compelling research. We draw on practical can-do experience from coalface housing and community groups with whom we collaborate, and our goal is provide the evidence base from which to press for a policy and fiscal framework that effectively supports the re-use of empty properties.
And this is where you come in. Can you support us? As a small charity, we rely on our supporters for funding. Much of our funding is allocated to specific research and outputs - but we also have constant overheads and we are specifically seeking core funding to help us cover these, to give the charity a sustainable base from which to springboard our campaigning and research. If you would like to donate, please look on our home-page and follow the ‘donate’ link.
People have got used to the fact that Empty Homes is part of the campaigning landscape. And with the need for housing constantly at the top of the political and news agenda, policymakers need to be prompted to remember that some of the solutions we seek may come from how we use existing stock, not just by focusing exclusively new build. The work of Empty Homes remains as important as ever - we look forward to working with you as we enter our second quarter century.
Helen joined Empty Homes as chief executive at the end of April 2014 having previously worked as an assistant director at the National Housing Federation and across a range of roles in housing. She is a passionate advocate of practical ideas where housing markets and ways of working do not serve people well. She believes solutions work best where they involve and build on the strengths of individuals and communities. She has a proven track record of devising ideas that work, influencing national policy and the actions of housing providers.
Brighid joined Empty Homes in May 2016 to help deliver a project which focusses on bringing empty homes into use in context of community-led regeneration and wider economic regeneration. Most recently a senior manager with Shropshire Council, Brighid has a very broad range of experience in many aspects of housing and strategic development. She is committed to supporting community-led solutions, community enterprise and self-help initiatives. Brighid believes creative partnerships to be central to the effective investment of resources and achievement of sustainable change.
Anita joined the Empty Homes Agency in July 2013 as the Finance Manager for the charity.
A confident, bright, and experienced Finance Manager, she has vast experience and knowledge gained through working within the charity sector. She has a strong commitment to excellence in service delivery and a powerful drive to achieve targets.
Sue Anderson is head of member and external relations at the Council of Mortgage Lenders, the trade body representing lenders who together account for around 97% of residential mortgage lending in the UK. After a degree in Classics, Sue worked briefly in book publishing before joining the world of trade associations in 1990 at the Building Societies Association. Since 1997 Sue has held a variety of roles within the CML and she currently manages a team responsible for the CML’s media work, public affairs, website, social media and member relations. Her other volunteering activity has included board membership of a housing association as well as being a school governor.
Nick Billingham is the Head of Devonshires' Housing Management Department. He has been involved in a number of high profile cases in the Court of Appeal and House of Lords (as was). Nick regularly lectures to clients on a wide range of housing management and property litigation issues. He has been a leading practitioner in the Social Housing field in Chambers Legal Directory for the past 14 years. He is a former Board Member of Colchester Borough Homes and is on the editorial board of Journal of Housing Law. He is also a founding member and until recently Chair of the Social Housing Law Association. Nick joined the Board of Empty Homes in May 2016.
Tom is the Chief Executive of Horsham District Council in West Sussex, a position he has held since 2005. His Council is active in tackling empty homes and has succeeded in bringing many back into use. He has a professional background as a Chartered Town Planner and has worked for Councils in Wales, London, Surrey and West Sussex. As Director of Community Services at Reigate in the late 1990s he was responsible for the Council’s housing services and during that time led a successful large scale voluntary stock transfer. He was also one of the founding board members of Saxon Weald – a stock transfer Housing Association based in Horsham. Tom joined the Board of Empty Homes in June 2017 and was appointed Chair in September 2017.
Jon Fitzmaurice OBE
Jon is a senior visiting fellow at Cass Business School, City University, and is the originator and director of self-help-housing.org which promotes and supports community led self-help housing initiatives. Previously he held senior positions in a number of housing organisations and was, for nine years, the Director of Homeless Link. He is currently a board member of CDS Co-operative Housing Services and previously served as a non-executive director of a number of housing and charitable organisations.
Jen has worked in the voluntary sector for over fifteen years and has held several senior roles in Students’ Unions, innovative and member focussed charities in the Higher Education sector providing representation and engagement opportunities to a diverse demographic. She has completed a Masters Degree in Voluntary Sector Management and has experience of developing charity governance, engaging people in campaigns and developing partnerships to deliver community based initiatives. Jen joined the Board in June 2017.
Mark has over 35 years communications experience within financial services having worked for several leading FTSE 100 companies. He specialises in media relations and has a proven track record in reputation management and crisis communication. During his career, Mark has won many industry awards for press relations. He has been a supporter of Empty Homes for a number of years and joined the Board in September 2013.
Toby has worked in housing research for many years – initially in central and local government, then as director at (Ipsos) MORI. She was responsible for their expanding housing research programme within both the public and private sectors, including carrying out several surveys with owners of private empty homes. Toby became Deputy Chair in July 2016.
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