Updated strategy to reduce the number of empty homes
Written by Gavin on 19th October 2022
Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s Cabinet has approved a new Empty Homes Strategy to continue the positive work that has helped bring 662 homes back into use in recent years – and to consult on proposals about Council Tax Premiums for long-term empty properties and second homes.
At their meeting on Monday, October 17, Members considered two reports about the Council’s commitment to reduce the number of empty properties in Rhondda Cynon Taf. Empty homes are a financial expense and a wasted resource which could be used to provide much-needed affordable housing. Their appearance can be unsightly and they attract anti-social behaviour.
The interventions, actions and support provided within the current Empty Homes Strategy (2018-2022) have reduced the number of empty homes from 3,556 to 2,894, a total of 662 properties (19%), over the four-year period.More detail about this positive work is included at the bottom of this update.
The proposed new Strategy (2022-2025) contains five clear objectives to build upon the current progress made – aiming to make a difference to the scale of empty homes brought back into use, and continue to reduce number of empty homes in a sustainable way. The five objectives include:
- Developing partnerships – continuing to engage with Registered Social Landlords, private sector partners, community groups and other stakeholders, while coordinating actions via the Empty Homes Operational Group.
- Maximising current funding and identifying further funding – seeking further opportunities, while continuing to effectively manage the Council’s Empty Homes Grant and the Houses into Homes Loan scheme.
- Using a range of interventions targeting all types of empty homes –from reviewing Council Tax premiums for long-term empty homes and second homes, to enforcement activity where appropriate on such properties.
- Further community research and evaluation of existing schemes – to analyse all factors affecting empty homes at a County Borough and ward level, while reviewing the best practice and effectiveness of interventions.
- Identifying solutions to prevent homes becoming empty – analysing the local housing market, strengthening the market, and maximising the identified Strategic Opportunity areas and wider regional opportunities.
In relation to premiums on empty properties, the Council introduced (on April 1, 2018) a 100% Council Tax charge for properties empty for longer than six months. Their number has since fallen by 22% due to greater willingness of homeowners to seek advice and support in order to bring properties back into use. However, a recent analysis shows that around 2,000 homes in Rhondda Cynon Taf remain ‘long-term empty’, with 905 empty for four years. It is therefore recognised that additional measures are required.
Cabinet has now agreed to consult on proposals for a Council Tax premium, at 50% for homes empty between 1-2 years (50% rise from current level) and at 100% for homes empty for at least two years (100% rise from current level). If agreed, this would come into effect on April 1, 2023.
For all properties classified as a second home, defined as a dwelling that is not a person’s sole or main residence and is substantially furnished, Cabinet has agreed to consult on the introduction of a 100% Council Tax premium (100% rise from the current level). Thiswould come into effect on April 1, 2024. There are currently 346 second homes in the County Borough, following an increase of more than 80% since 2018.
Councillor Mark Norris, Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s Cabinet Member for Development and Prosperity, said:
“The work undertaken by the current Empty Homes Strategy has delivered very positive outcomes since 2018, with the overall number of empty homes reduced by 19%, and long-term empty properties by 22%. This shows excellent progress towards our aims in this area, in order to achieve economic benefits, an increase in the affordable housing supply and an overall positive impact upon our communities.
“Positive work has included leading on the Valleys Taskforce Empty Homes Grant Scheme, of which 263 of the 488 successful grants were in RCT – representing a £4.2m investment to tackle empty homes locally. The Council supports the Houses into Homes Scheme which has brought a further 196 empty properties back into use, while officers also host the RCT Landlord Forum to provide regular engagement with around 40 members. These are just some of the actions making a positive difference under the current Strategy.
“However, there continues to be a significant number of empty homes and a growing number of second homes in Rhondda Cynon Taf, and the proposed new Empty Homes Strategy put forward five clear objectives to make further progress up until 2025. Cabinet agreed the new Strategy on Monday.
“Members also considered proposals to introduce a Council Tax premium for long-term empty properties and second homes. We’ve already seen a positive impact with the introduction of a 100% Council Tax rate for long-term empty properties, which came into force in April 2018 – as homeowners and landlords are now more likely to seek advice and support to bring their home back into use. The new proposals are intended to achieve a similar outcome, affecting homes that have been empty for at least a year.
“This is the right thing to do, to increase much-needed affordable housing and protect communities from potential negative outcomes of empty homes. There are many avenues of support for homeowners who may be affected, including grants to assist with renovations. There are also exemptions to the proposals for a Council Tax premium – for example, where properties have been reasonably marketed for let or sale. Cabinet has agreed to consult on the proposals about Council Tax premiums, and if implemented following the consultation, officers would advise all affected homeowners to give them as much notice as possible before the changes come into effect.”
Actions during the Empty Homes Strategy (2018-2022)
Particular focus was placed on 684 properties that were empty since 2014, through a targeted approach including contacting homeowners, providing advice on the support available, and intervention and enforcement action. In total, 397 (58%) of the homes are now back in use due to positive action by the Council – via interventions, loans, grants and proactive work by officers.
The Council was also the Lead Authority in the £10m Valleys Taskforce Empty Homes Grant Scheme, across nine Local Authorities. A total of 942 valid applications were received, of which 488 continued with the grant. In total, 263 grants were within the RCT area, resulting in £4.2m of grant funding being committed locally. As of April 2022, 163 schemes in RCT are complete.
Other positive actions under the 2018-2022 Strategy include the Houses into Homes Loan which awarded £3.91m in total via loans (as of April 2022), to help create 196 homes from empty properties. The Homestep Plus Scheme helped 22 first-time buyers in the CF37 postcode area purchase empty homes at 70% of their market value, bringing them back into use via renovations.
The Council’s Housing Strategy department hosts the RCT Landlord Forum quarterly, attended by around 40 members. This direct engagement with landlords allows the Forum to work together to reduce the number of empty properties in the County Borough. A newsletter is also published twice a year to inform of schemes such as the Houses into Homes Loan scheme.
The Council also works closely with Registered Social Landlords and partners to bring empty town centre commercial space back into use. Recent schemes have included Oxford Buildings in Mountain Ash; The Boot, The Black Lion and the Former Natwest Bank in Aberdare; 122-126 Dunraven Street and the Former Co-op in Tonypandy; the Sorting Office in Treorchy; and various schemes at Taff Street, High Street and Gelliwastad Road in Pontypridd.