URGENT - Definition of a Long-Term Empty Home

We have an external auditor in our office this week looking at my empty homes work.  He thinks a Long-Term Empty Home definition should include empty/FURNISHED homes and also those empty under 6 months.

As I've spent the past ten years working on the premise that the definition of a Long-term empty home, according to council tax classification, was one which is unoccupied and unfurnished for more than six months, I would very much appreciate your confirmation of this fact please? 

All the training events, EHN events etc etc I have attended over the years have taught me an LTE is empty UNfurnished over six months...

Thank you very much in advance for helping me out.

Lynne Leach, South Lakeland District Council

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Council tax - discounts, access to info etc

I agree with your understanding Lynne and our Council Tax data is supplied to our empty homes team. It is based on the Council Tax definition of a long term empty property, i.e. a dwelling that is both unoccupied and unfirnished and has been so for at least 6 months.

I don't understand why the auditor would think that a furnished but unoccupied home is a long term empty dwelling because it is being used for a purpose. Most likely, the owner(s) are using it occasionally. I have never heard the definition of a long term empty property that your auditor is putting forward.

 

Alison

Hi Lynne,

I agree, all definitions of LTEs from Government and Council Tax rely on over-6-month empties.  The furnished ones are surely second homes which are currently not being targeted by government and therefore not by us.  When we first looked we found that the majority of homes empty for less than 6 months returned to use of their own accord, so it would be a waste of resource to target them.  Hope you can convince the auditor.

Penny

I agree with all of you. Ive been working on the basis for the last 7 years that LTE = unfurnished/unoccupied property for 6+ months. I believe this whta the DCLG refer to it as also.

Hi,

Just to play devil's advocate (and I should add that I'm not familiar with the details of the CT definition having just had empty homes added to my remit), we have a long term empty home (possibly 30 years) which is furnished (as per the owner's parents when they were living there), but has also been used for storage of the owner's possessions since the parent's passed away, and it now chocablock full (think hoarder...).  But it is not empty as such.  If we applied the unfurnished definition this would mean we would't be able to use our empty homes powers on it?  We have had to intervene in recent years with overgrown gardens, squatters etc as the owners visited less and less.  Allowing furnished properties into the remit would also allow you to address this type of property? 

I am happy to be corrected by someone more knowledgeable on this subject!

Clearly, in terms of a current audit perspective there is no question that LTE should only include 6-month plus and unfurnished.

However, in my view, the real question is whether this should continue to be the definition. I have always taken the view that I can take enforcement action on a furnished empty and would be happy to argue the point any appeal / PLI. It is wrong there are so many 'hidden empties' on the national statistics. By this I am referring to the case above outlined by DVincent of the 30-yr old furnished eyesore empty which is never used at all. I am sure that we all have many such properties in our areas which any reasonable person would label as a long term empty property but at the same time are not included in any count of empty properties.     

I work in an outer London borough where the number of '2nd home / furnished empties over 6-months, actually represent over 30% of the overall total. I would guess that the real figure of genuine 2nd homes here should only be around 5%.

Perhaps we should be campaigning for local authorities to be allowed some sort of discretion to override the furnished empty definition where there is a clear and overriding case. This would also provide Council Tax with extra levy income (for those authorities which are charging the 2-year levy) and would also provide the empty property owner with an extra incentive to act ..........rant over.....and breath!!   

     

Hi Lynne

There was a rather helpful letter from the DCLG dated 23 September 2014.

It is about the definitions of empty homes and second homes regarding the then recently introduced (April 2013) council tax premium which were for unoccupied and substantially unfurnished properties greater than two years.

The main quote being: 'a property which is substantially unfurnished is unlikely to be occupied or be capable of ocupation'.  

I also consider the term used by HMRC for tax concessions in notice 708  'a property  that has not been lived in for 2/10 years'.......

It will unltimately be a matter of fact whether the property is empty/unoccupied/not lived in.

I hope this helps?

Will

   

 

       

It depends.

Long term empty homes are anything you want them to be, but Long Term Empty homes are special to practitioners because of CTax and New Homes Bonus (all covered above).

I deal with many long term empty homes that are not Long Term Empty homes.  

Tell your auditor that there are occupied LTEs out there, but it's not possible for a long term empty home to be occupied. Ask them to describe a long term empty house in multiple occupation. Ask them whether your Council should apply the LTE Premium to all Second Homes unoccupied for 2 years or longer. 

When speaking with owners, I refer to "your spare home". That way I remove the arguments about "how long is long term" and "how unoccupied/unused/unfurnished/unloved is empty". 

I'm doing a piece on 'what is an empty home?' at our conference. Please tell me how to make it interesting?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nick P-G
Reading BC
01189373091

Hi Nick,

I'm looking forward to your talk at the conference. It might be worth including the 2015 decision relating to a CPO made in respect of 8 Cave Road, Brough? I don't want to print any spoilers but it's an interesting decision. I can email you a copy of the Inspector's decision and report if you don't already have it. 

Kind regards,

Fiona

Fiona Anthony, nplaw

I'd like to thank everyone who replied to my question - namely AlisonJ, Penny Marsh, HStevens, DVincent, NickPG and DCarter who put forward a very interesting proposition regarding how empty furnished properties should possibly be treated. 

Regarding the (long-time) empty furnished properties which are lumped in with second homes according to council tax system classifications, it would be a big help in the first place if these could be split up between actual second holiday homes, and those where it's simply because the furniture has never been removed but they are still empty homes.

And I can also pass on the good news that we 'passed' our audit, so a big thank you for all your helpful replies!

Best wishes from Lynne Leach, South Lakeland District Council

Lynne Leach

As usual, England's housing policies trail behind the devolved administrations.

In Wales, council tax rates on LTEs and second homes have been equalised so furnishing your home to avoid empty homes premium won't help. There are national policy exceptions if a home is being marketed for letting or sale, but the exception can only be claimed once unless a sale or letting has occurred, and only for a year and the prices have to be reasonable.

Premium on Long-Term Empties is chargeable after a property has been empty for a year. With Second Homes there is no qualifying period, so it's the opposite of an escape route for a devious owner.

The Welsh Government guidance explains the position (accessible via our library here.)

In Scotland, second home owners can escape the Premium payable on LTEs (the Premium can be charged after a year in Scotland) but at least there is a requirement that the Second Home is occupied for a minimum period (25 days) every year.

It is notable that these measures were all lin place when the legislation to increase EHP in England was going through Parlliament but received no attention from our legislators.