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Council reveals strategy to reduce the number of empty homes

Credit: RCT Council

RCT 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.”