District council brokers potential new deal with power company to bring more empty homes back into use

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Thirty empty homes in North Kesteven could be brought back into use under a scheme being considered by the district council in partnership with energy providers E.ON.

At a meeting of the council’s Executive Board on Tuesday (December 3) councillors are being recommended to make up to £60,000 available to go into a contract with E.ON to help owners with practical information and advice which includes financial planning and budgeting for the work.

The E.ON scheme also provides active project management of the refurbishment work using approved trades people if the owner wishes this as well.

Initially the pilot scheme would run for 15 months and bring up to 30 properties back into use - after that the authority has no additional financial liability and all other matters are undertaken by E.ON.

Typically there are 453 long term empty properties in the council area and 125 of them have been empty for more than two years.

The council is currently meeting a 20 property a year target, however, it says limited financial and enforcement powers are making it increasingly difficult.

The council is committed to helping owners bring empty properties back into use and officers see the E.ON proposal as a further way of helping owners who are unable to plan, organise or finance a way to bring these properties back into use by themselves.

The council’s Empty Homes Officer Stewart James said: “The E.ON Empty Homes scheme means that the authority pays £2,000 (plus VAT) for each property brought back into use by this scheme but if the property remains unoccupied no fee is due.

“The council is committed to bringing empty homes back into use through a range of measures and this is another way that we can encourage and assist empty home owners to respond positively.

“An empty home offers nothing to the community it is in. All it does is attract complaints, vermin, anti-social behaviour and dereliction. It also brings an increased financial liability on owners as after a period they are charged twice the rate for council tax.”

(From next year the council tax rises to three times the rate if empty for over five years and from 2021 the charge will be four times the rate for properties empty for over ten years).

“The alternative is that when a house is brought back into use it brings value to the community as a home, where occupants can contribute to the life and vitality of the community, the local economy and the vitality of local services.”

Those who agree to be part of the scheme will be able to access extra funding unavailable to most local authorities as well as gain assistance with insulation, new boilers and other appliances to improve energy efficiency, say officers.

Nigel Dewbery, Director of Energy Efficiency at E.ON said: “Working together with local authorities and owners we aim to tackle the problem of empty properties and with it make something of a dent in the current housing shortage.

“Through our close work with local authorities up and down the country we’ve seen first-hand the impact empty homes have on the communities around them. As a result we’ve worked with a number of local authorities over the last year to

develop this unique service to support them with the challenges they face.”

For the council, Stewart James said the authority was keen to do all it could to ensure that homes did not remain empty unnecessarily.

“We’re keen to work with owners of long term vacant properties to bring them back into use by offering advice and assistance as an alternative to having to take enforcement action. However, our experience shows that many owners with

empty properties may feel there is too much work to do, they lack the time required, or they simply don’t know where to start when it comes to bringing their property back into use,” said Mr James.

Recommending approval, officers say: “With the lack of financial assistance through either grants or loans the project is unable to assist those owners who need this type of help when they find they have inherited or acquired a poor condition empty property.

“The scheme that E.ON is proposing would allow the council the option to use this as both assistance for owners who need financial assistance as well as those who want to return the property to use but do not understand or have the experience to do so.”

If you have a home that has been empty for six months or more and want to find out more call Stewart James on (01529) 414155