Second Homes

Hi there

I just wondered if I could get some advice and information on how you deal with empty home owners who claim that they are using their property as a "Second Home". I have a home owner who states that he will use the property "as and when he sees fit and when his circumstances will allow him". It is not furnished, and if there is anything in there it is very sparse. He will not commit himself to moving back into the premises, nor will he commit to wanting to either rent or sell the house. He has carried out the majority of the remedial work that I have asked him to do including installing new windows. A neighbour has informed me that the gas and electricity has been disconnected and therefore I am unable to see how he will use this as a second home. Is there anyway of checking with amenity firms whether the gas/elec are connected. Is this something that NAFN can carry out on your behalf. I thought I saw something on here the other day about second homes, but couldn't seem to find it.

Your thoughts, comments and expertise would be much appreciated. Many thanks

Nikki Bryant Gedling Borough Council

Forums: 
miscellaneous issues

Hi Nikki,

In Cornwall we receive a number of reports/complaints about empty properties that on checking are classified as a 2nd Home. We have a good working relationship with our Revenues colleagues and have agreed a basic process that where there are significant issues plus doubts about the status of a property they will review, sometimes on the basis of our (Empty Homes Team) evidence, e.g. inspection records/photos, etc., but sometimes following reassessment by their Visiting Officer. In the case you mention, on the basis of your observations and comments, it does seem that if the property is unfurnished or as sparse as you say then it ought to be re-classified as Long-Term Empty, possibly Premium if empty for more than 2 years (or possibly temporarily benefiting from an Empty Uninhabitable Major Works discount). I would clarify the position with your Revenues colleagues in first instance, so that you have a foundation for any necessary follow-on action. I understand that there is a utlities enquiry option within NAFN, but others are probbaly better placed to advise about that (NAFN enquiries are tasked to a member of our team who is familiar with the system's capabilities and functioning).

David

Hi Nikki

We normally ask owners to produce evidence that they are using the services at the property otherwise we will still consider it empty. Your council tax colleagues may have connections to utility suppliers to verify useage.

DCLG issued a letter with some guidance about what is considered empty or occupied and I have copied and pasted relevant info below. It is not unreasonable to assume that second homes should be capable of occupation.

"Local authorities will have formed their own views on the definitions for the purposes of administering both the discounts and the premium. A property which is substantially unfurnished is unlikely to be occupied or be capable of occupation. A property which is capable of occupation can reasonably be expected to contain some, if not all, items from both of the following categories: furniture such as bed, chairs, table, wardrobe or sofa, and white goods such as fridge, freezer or cooker.

• Where a property is said to be occupied it will be reasonable for the local authority to cross-check with the electoral roll , or ask for evidence, such as utility bills showing usage of services, driving licence as proof of address, or receipts or other proof of moving costs.

• It will ultimately be a matter of fact whether the property is unoccupied and substantially unfurnished. Local authorities will be aware that under Schedule 3 of the Local Government Finance Act 1992, civil penalties can be applied to a person who deliberately supplies false information. In addition, the provisions of the Theft Act 1968 apply to council tax. Where there is a question mark over occupation/furnishings it may be worth bringing this to the attention of residents and asking them to verify these facts in that light. "

If there is no gas and/or electric then I would consider applying the Housing Act too.

Hope this helps

Sue

Sue Li

Compulsory Purchase and Enforcement Officer

Derby City Council

Hi Nikkie,

Further to the above responses, I have put together the following information, specifically in relation to searching for utilities data (but equally applies for tracing the whereabouts of absconded property owners etc.). I apologise in advance for the somewhat long-winded response, but I can only hope that it will also help other EP officers, with similar cases (requiring further investigation).

As a case officer, I come across properties/owners such are your case above on a fairly regular basis. Personally I have found that using NAFN and the various searches they offer is absolutely critical for me to progress a number of our 'key'/'potential enforcement cases (along with gathering a wide range of evidence).

I am not sure how familiar you are with NAFN & their website and I can only provide input as a LA officer/user of their site (and I am by no means an expert). But the logical first step would be to check and see if your Authority are Corporate Members of NAFN, as I was unaware that another department within our Council had already paid the subscription (so worth sending an email - general@nafn.gov.uk ) and the subsequent per search fee/s.

In regards to the utilities searches specifically- once you are registered it is fairly straight forward. You simply input the information of the address, individual & what information you require. https://asoneweb.nafn.gov.uk/utilities/

NAFN will require you to confirm that your request for data complies with the Data Protection Act 1998, with specific searches requiring differing levels of consent etc. In almost all of my cases, I rely on the DPA S35.1 (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1998/29/section/35), which basically has a ‘catch-all’ phrase of “…including prospective legal proceedings…” For what it’s worth - I ran this past our internal Legal/Data Protection Team and they were happy that I am compliant.

NAFN will also require that you input a ‘justification section’ for each enquiry that is required, including info on the relevant statutes/sections. I have now somewhat fine-tuned/standardised my NAFN text input (as in my experience - our empty property work caused them some confusion at first). Therefore, I now use a generic paragraph that I amend/tweak for each search that I input. Text as follows: “The property is evidently empty and the cause of concern and the Council is considering potential options for prospective legal proceedings to remedy the situation and bring it back into use, including under the following legislative provisions: • Housing Act 2004 - Part 4, Chapter 2, sections 132-138 (Interim and final empty dwelling management orders) • Housing Act 1985 - Section 17 (Acquisition of land for housing purposes) • Town and Country Planning Act 1990 – Section 226 (Compulsory acquisition of land for development and other planning purposes). The requested information (specifically in this case >>DELETE AS APPROPRIATE -Utilities data, Tracing/Address Data, Death Certificates, Wills, Probate etc.... <<) is required (under Data Protection Act 1998 - Section 35 prospective legal proceedings exemption) to assist the Council in its assessment and consideration and determination of the most appropriate option.”

I hope that that this info helps out & good luck,
Craig.

Craig Donlevy

Cornwall Council