Where did the last three months go?! I posted my previous blog in May/June and I can’t believe we’re already in October.
The new dates for National Empty Homes Week this year will be from 16th to 22nd October, which makes a lot of sense. It’s a better time of year to be contacting owners rather than December, when the last thing they were interested in was their empty property.
For the second year running our Cumbria Empty Property Group is producing a regional newsletter for Empty Homes Week. For those local authorities where there’s not enough time and resources for much empty homes work, a newsletter is a good way to highlight what has been done and gives contact details for each local authority. For example it’s quick and easy to offer a service providing owners with the VAT-savings letter. It’s a ‘quick hit’ and always makes owners happy to be saving money on their repairs costs. I’ll be leaving our printed newsletters on our Reception desk for landlords visiting the council.
A new and interesting part-time post of Private Sector Accommodation Officer has been created at South Lakeland District Council. This is a split role between Housing Options and Empty Homes. The person in this role is a landlord herself, so she’s well-placed to know what benefits the council could offer that would most appeal to landlords. She’s currently in the process of contacting landlords with homes empty under six months (before they become long-term empties). If she’s able to ‘sign them up’ to the re-launched social lettings scheme, we’re hoping these empty homes may never make it to my list of long-term empty homes!
At the moment we’re re-launching our empty homes grant management scheme. This time we’ve given owners the choice of ‘exiting’ the scheme early if they need to. Our normal grant condition is five years, but not everyone wants to commit to that length of time. So in recognition that people’s circumstances can change we’ve offered this option after two, three or four years, with a percentage payback of the grant for an early exit.
We’re also letting owners ‘match-fund’ up to £20,000 more than the grant if the repairs costs are more than our maximum grant of £20,000. And we’ve extended the locations of the properties we’re targeting. Since we don’t get complaints about empty flats and have limited funds, we’re restricting our scheme to houses only, A to C council tax bands, and one, two or three beds. And as it’s a more flexible scheme this time we’re hoping to get good take-up by empty home owners.
Best wishes from the Lakes,
Lynne Leach, Empty Homes Officer, South Lakeland District Council