Council backs interest free loans to tackle empty homes scandal

A boarded up home in Ripley.

A boarded up home in Ripley.

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It is often said that we are the middle of a ‘housing crisis’.

For years, families have been struggling to get on the housing ladder, while the green areas around our towns and villages are subject to a constant stream of planning applications.

Inspecting an empty property in Heanor following a complaint by a neighbour.

Inspecting an empty property in Heanor following a complaint by a neighbour.

And yet - even during this time of intense pressure on the housing supply - hundreds of homes lie empty.

As the empty homes officer for Amber Valley Borough Council, Adrian Anderson is the man responsible for bringing these homes back into use.

He said: “At any one time there are approximately 650 long-term empty properties in Amber Valley.

“In addition to being a wasted housing resource, empty properties can also be unsightly and a blight on the local community.

Securing an empty property in Belper.

Securing an empty property in Belper.

“If left empty these properties can become a target for vandalism, anti-social behaviour and fly tipping.”

Adrian says properties become, and remain, empty for a number of reasons, each one having a different tale to tell.

Some are bought as investment with little understanding of the work and finance required to renovate second homes.

Sometimes owners are unable to sell or let, are in long-term care or work away or simply die with no next of kin.

Inspecting an overgrown garden at an empty property in Alfreton following a complaint about vermin.

Inspecting an overgrown garden at an empty property in Alfreton following a complaint about vermin.

He says the highest numbers are in the larger towns of Belper, Heanor and Ripley, but there are ‘significant numbers’ throughout the district.

“In the first instance, the council makes contact with owners of empty properties when they have been empty for six months,” says Adrian.

“This is an informal approach to try and find out what the owners’ intentions are and to offer any assistance if required.”

The council can then offer assistance with planning and construction advice, housing standards, letting or leasing properties or selling at auction.

An overgrown garden in Ripley.

An overgrown garden in Ripley.

Adrian says they always try and offer help and assistance, but will consider the use of more formal enforcement measures where owners refuse to co-operate or the property is causing a problem.

“This can include planning and environmental enforcement for unsightly property but may also mean the use of compulsory purchase and enforced sale,” he says.

“We prioritise properties based on a number of factors including the condition of the property, its location, the length of time it has been unoccupied and how many complaints there have been from residents.”

Now, however, the borough council is launching a new scheme to help owners renovate their empty properties.

The empty property renovation loan scheme was launched before Christmas to coincide with a week-long campaign by national charity, Empty Homes.

A maximum of £15,000 is available to the owners of long-term empty properties to assist them in carrying out renovation works which will allow the property to be offered to the rental market, or sold.

The loan is offered on an interest-free basis and is subject to funding being available.

Applications will be assessed on a case-by-case basis and acceptance on to the scheme is subject to terms and conditions.

Coun David Taylor, the council’s portfolio holder for housing and public health, said: “Helping to bring empty properties back into use is a high propriety for us.

“Not only are empty properties a wasted resource in terms of valuable living accommodation but they are also often an eyesore in the local community.

“We hope this latest initiative will help us to continue to deliver positive outcomes.”

Research recently commissioned by the nationwide Empty Homes charity shows strong public support for measures to bring empty homes back into use.

These include levying higher council tax rates for people who keep their properties empty for more than a year and subsidising the sale of long-term empty properties to local authorities, charities and families.

The director of Empty Homes, Helen Williams, said: “The strong and rising support from the public for the Government to prioritise tackling long-term empty homes should be a wake-up call for those in power to invest more in the creation of affordable homes from empty properties, alongside building new homes.

“With the ending of a dedicated empty homes programmes in March 2015, empty homes seems to have slipped down the Government’s agenda and our research clearly shows this is now well out of step with public opinion.

“Empty homes remain a blot on the landscape in too many areas and local authorities need to continue to resource their empty homes work to ensure they can respond to residents’ concerns and make the most of existing properties to meet their local housing needs.”

For more details on Amber Valley’s scheme, call Adrian Anderson on 01773 841340 or email eh.housing@ambervalley.gov.uk.