We believe priority should be given to bringing long-term empty homes back into use to meet housing needs, alongside building more homes.
Our main campaigning aims are:
1. Raising awareness of the waste of empty homes and how they can be brought back into use as affordable housing across England. The outcomes we seek include that:
2. Spreading community-based regeneration in areas with higher levels and local concentrations of empty homes. The outcomes we seek include:
We called on the government to extend the News Homes Bonus to long-term empty properties returned to use.
That happened from 2010. Councils are now paid grant from central government for reductions in the number of long-term empty properties in their area. The amount paid relates to the Council Tax that is payable on those homes and the grant is paid every year for six years.
We think this measure has encouraged local authorities to work more with property owners, community and housing organisations to turn empty properties into homes. Some local authorities have used the payments to resource dedicated empty homes teams. Some have seen the number of long-term empty homes in their area come down on the back of that. We think it is important to maintain a system of financial incentives to help resource the work of local authorities in tackling empty homes.
We called on government to remove Council Tax discounts on empty properties.
That happened from 2013. Property owners are no longer automatically exempt from Council Tax for up to six months if their property is vacant and unfurnished. Local authorities can also set their own level of discounts for empty homes and the time periods that they wish to apply. Some local authorities give a discount if the property is undergoing major repairs or structural works.
Council Tax cannot be charged on some empty properties, for example where the owner has moved into a care home or the property has been compulsory purchased and is awaiting demolition. In some cases we support these exemptions. But, we also think there should be a review of how Council Tax is applied as currently some owners are avoiding paying it. For example, by furnishing their property even though they never, or rarely, stay there and do not let it out.
We called on government to allow councils to charge more Council Tax on empty homes.
That happened from 2013. Councils can charge up to 150% of the standard Council Tax due if the property has been empty and unfurnished for two or more years. Most local authorities have adopted this measure and opted for the full 150% premium rather than a lesser amount.
We believe that a more thorough review of Council Tax and other property tax is required to make sure that there are sufficient carrots and sticks to encourage owners to bring properties back into use quickly. In high value areas where properties are being bought for their investment return, it is doubtful that 150% Council tax would be enough to encourage owners to live in or let out their properties.
We called on government to fund new empty homes schemes in 2011/15.
That happened from 2011 with the Coalition Government introducing dedicated empty homes programmes which supported and encouraged housing providers and community organisations to create affordable homes from empty properties.
These programmes enabled housing providers and community organisations to buy, or to lease, long-term empty properties and renovate and repair them so that they could be brought back into use as affordable housing. Over 9,000 new homes were created from empty properties through these programmes.
The dedicated empty homes programmes ended in March 2015 and we are making the case to Government to invest in bringing empty homes back into use through new dedicated funding streams. Otherwise there is a real risk that investment in empty homes will not be prioritised.
We also intend to influence the design of any future programmes and how they are administered, drawing on what local organisations tell us worked and what could have worked better in the existing programmes.
We called on government to reduce the rate of VAT charged on empty homes.
That happened from 2007. Building works needed to bring empty homes into use for homes that have been empty for two years or more are now charged at 5%. Previously homes had to be empty for three years or more.
We still think that further reforms are needed and this is why we are a member of the ‘Cut the Vat’ campaign.
We called on government to provide councils with more powers to tackle empty homes.
That happened from 2004. The Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMO) was introduced to provide a power for local authorities to take over the management of long-tern empty homes. We successfully led a campaign for the retention of EDMO’s when the Coalition Government was formed in 2010, though some changes were made to the orders that restrict their use.
The dwelling now needs to have been unoccupied for two years or more. Local authorities also have to follow new procedures requiring them to give three months’ notice of an application to a residential property tribunal for an interim EDMO; requiring them to supply all information that they have that suggests that the dwelling has been causing a nuisance to the community and all information that they have that suggests that the community supports the proposed making of the Order.
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