Public Sector Property

25.02.19

From empty home to home sweet home

Source: PSE Feb/March 2019

Paul Dennett, city mayor of Salford, reports on how his council has been cracking down on empty homes.

Salford City Council brought almost one empty home a day back into use between 2011 and 2016 – and the battle continues.

The strategy cut the number of empty properties in the city by nearly 3,000 – the fifth highest reduction in England. With more than 5,800 people on the housing register and 39 people bidding for every affordable home which becomes available, it’s all part of the city’s plans to tackle the housing crisis and create more affordable homes.

Cllr Tracy Kelly, lead member for housing and neighbourhoods, said: “While some people just abandon and neglect them, most owners just don’t have the funds to refurbish their property.

“That’s why we set up a dedicated empty properties team to work with owners, secure government and other funding and, if necessary, use the legal system to get these homes brought back to Decent Homes Standard and back into use.”

In 2010 there were 6,237 vacant properties in Salford, 6% of the city’s total housing stock – 3,761 of which had been empty for more than six months. Many were privately owned and drawing complaints from local communities which felt the properties blighted their areas.

The new empty properties team, made up of five housing officers, was charged with halving the number within three years. “Our first step was to map empty homes, trace the owners if we could, and find out why the property was empty,” said Cllr Kelly.

“The team used council tax data, information from council staff who were out and about in the community, details from partner organisations (such as registered social landlords) and complaints from members of the public.

“That gave us a list of properties – which included houses and flats above shops – and our next task was to find the owners, sit down and discuss the situation with them ,and agree the best way to get these properties refurbished and back into use.

“We always seek to work with owners as far as possible and have been very successful with that. For many people, the offer of help is a huge relief, but the team can use legal powers if the owner cannot be traced or rejects every attempt at co-operation. Going down the legal route is always proportionate and is only used if all other options fail as we much prefer to work with the owner to find the best solution,” said Cllr Kelly.

“If the building has certain hazards we can inspect it, serve an improvement notice, and follow that up with legal action if the owner does not respond. We can put a charge on the property which can only be revoked if works are carried out and, sometimes, the knowledge of that is enough to galvanise owners who can into dealing with the problems.

“As a last resort, we can and do use compulsory purchase order powers to acquire properties. We have only had to do that four times in the last few years – and two of those properties were compulsorily acquired by agreement. All four properties were then sold on condition that they were refurbished and brought back into use as homes.”

The council has also used the council tax system to encourage homeowners to take action by abolishing or reducing council tax discount on empty properties and adding a 50% premium to those that have been unoccupied and substantially unfurnished for over two years. That has affected around 1,400 properties and encouraged owners to take action, as well as generating around £70,000 in additional council tax revenue.

“If an owner owes council tax on a property, councils can register a liability order with the magistrates – in effect a demand to pay the money owed. Under council tax law we can then go to the county court and ask the court to order the sale of the property so we can recover that unpaid council tax from the proceeds of sale.

“The threat of such action prompted 37 owners to settle their bills, which amounted to £50,000 and brought their properties back into use. We were also able to bring six more properties back into use by forcing a sale as well as recovering unpaid council tax.”

Funding of more than £6.3m from various government agencies allowed the team to work with local organisations and housing associations to offer grants of between £8,000 and £34,000 to owners to refurbish their properties. Some were asked to match-fund the grant while others were offered funding on condition that the properties were leased to social landlords who lease them to local residents at affordable rents, guarantee the owners rent even during empty periods, and provide them with a full management service.

Cllr Kelly added: “Tackling empty properties is just one strand of our plan to create more affordable housing in the city by working with partners and using Section 106 money to set up our own local housing company to build council houses once again.

“Not only do people and communities benefit, but the refurbishments cost an estimated £9.8m, which benefitted local contractors by around £6m and helped protect and create jobs.

“Salford City Council has received over £2.1m in extra council tax over five years. In addition, since 2011 up to 2018 Salford has secured £62.7m in New Homes Bonus monies, 24% of which came from our success in reducing empty homes. “It makes sense to recycle the empties.”

 

Enjoying PSE? Subscribe here to receive our weekly news updates or click here to receive a copy of the magazine!

Comments

There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment

 

related

public sector executive tv

more videos >

latest public sector news

First minister promises rules review after Caerphilly council’s six-year £4m pay row

25/03/2019First minister promises rules review after Caerphilly council’s six-year £4m pay row

A six-year pay dispute between councillors at Caerphilly County Borough Council at a cost of £4m will mean the rules around senior council ... more >
RBS to wind down £1bn worth of controversial LOBO loans by end of the year

25/03/2019RBS to wind down £1bn worth of controversial LOBO loans by end of the year

The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) is attempting to wind down the remainder of around £1bn in controversial LOBO bank loans. Seven local... more >
Essex council announces £1bn construction deal

22/03/2019Essex council announces £1bn construction deal

An Essex council has announced a £1bn contract in a joint venture to regenerate council sites and deliver new homes and commercial faciliti... more >

comment

Camberley inspired: investment and regeneration

11/03/2019Camberley inspired: investment and regeneration

The decline of the Great British high street has been one of the greatest concerns for local councils in recent years, leading to some innovative... more >
Swindon's solar-powered recycling centre saves council cash

11/03/2019Swindon's solar-powered recycling centre saves council cash

Steve Cains, head of power solutions at Public Power Solutions, the wholly-owned subsidiary of Swindon Borough Council, describes the benefits of... more >
National Infrastructure Commission: Progressing the North

11/03/2019National Infrastructure Commission: Progressing the North

The National Infrastructure Commission’s (NIC) National Infrastructure Assessment was released in July 2018, making a variety of recommenda... more >

editor's comment

25/10/2017Take a moment to celebrate

Devolution, restructuring and widespread service reform: from a journalist’s perspective, it’s never been a more exciting time to report on the public sector. That’s why I could not be more thrilled to be taking over the reins at PSE at this key juncture. There could not be a feature that more perfectly encapsulates this... read more >

interviews

Digital innovation in the public sector: The future is now

17/12/2018Digital innovation in the public sector: The future is now

One of the public sector’s key technology partners has recently welcomed a new member to its team. Matt Spencer, O2’s head of public ... more >
Artificial intelligence: the devil is in the data

17/12/2018Artificial intelligence: the devil is in the data

It’s no secret that the public sector and its service providers need to invest in technology to help make better use of their resources. Bu... more >
New Dorset Councils CEO on the creation of a new unitary: ‘This is going to be the right decision for Dorset’

05/11/2018New Dorset Councils CEO on the creation of a new unitary: ‘This is going to be the right decision for Dorset’

The new chief executive of one of the new unitary authorities in Dorset has outlined his approach to culture and work with employees, arguing tha... more >

public sector focus

View all News
First minister promises rules review after Caerphilly council’s six-year £4m pay row

25/03/2019First minister promises rules review after Caerphilly council’s six-year £4m pay row

A six-year pay dispute between councillors at Caerphilly County Borough Council at a cost of £4m will mean the rules around senior council officers’ pay in Wales will be changed, firs... more >
RBS to wind down £1bn worth of controversial LOBO loans by end of the year

25/03/2019RBS to wind down £1bn worth of controversial LOBO loans by end of the year

The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) is attempting to wind down the remainder of around £1bn in controversial LOBO bank loans. Seven local authorities announced in February that they were ... more >

the raven's daily blog

Councils Can: LGA launches Spending Review campaign

18/03/2019Councils Can: LGA launches Spending Review campaign

Lord Porter, chairman of the Local Government Association, outlines his organisation’s campaign to make sure local government tops to government’s list for this year’s Spending Review. Our #CouncilsCan campaign to influence this year’s Spending Review is well underway and gathering momentum. The money local governm... more >
read more blog posts from 'the raven' >

last word

The importance of openness after Grenfell

The importance of openness after Grenfell

Following the recent Grenfell Tower tragedy, Lord Porter, chairman of the LGA, argues that if the public are going to have faith in the safety testing process then everything must be out in the o... more > more last word articles >