South Cambridgeshire District Council Empty Homes Grant Scheme

Introduction

Empty homes are a wasted resource in terms of housing available for people to live in and they can also have a negative impact on their surrounding communities, as well as being a financial burden for many owners. South Cambridgeshire is in a high area of demand for affordable housing and there are currently over 4,800 people on the housing register looking for accommodation. The Council is therefore committed to making the most of existing stock within the District and wants to encourage owners to bring long-term empty homes back into use. An Empty Homes Strategy is being developed to help achieve this.

As part of the Strategy’s development, the Council in partnership with King Street Housing Society are piloting the Empty Homes Grant Initiative. The purpose of the scheme is to provide financial assistance (through S.106 affordable housing contributions) to help bring back long term empty properties into use with the aim of providing additional affordable accommodation in order to meet local housing needs. Grants are awarded at the Council’s discretion in return for properties being let through the Council’s Private Sector Leasing Scheme (“PSL”) at an Affordable Rent.

Eligibility

• Properties must be in the South Cambridgeshire District and deemed suitable for the Private Sector Leasing Scheme. [Suitability will based upon location, size and the condition of the property]
• Applicants must be the registered owner/s of the property
• Property must have been empty for at least 6 months
• If the property is subject to a mortgage, the mortgage lender’s permission to the scheme will be required.

Eligible Works

Financial assistance will be given to help bring a property up to the ‘PSL Minimum Standards (essential requirements)’ for letting through the Council’s Private Sector Leasing Scheme, for example:
• Replacing defective doors and windows
• Replacing defective heating system
• Other thermal efficiency measures – e.g. cavity wall and loft insulation and draught-proofing
• Addressing safety issues – e.g. smoke detectors
• Replacing defective kitchens and bathrooms
• Ensuring the property is lettable by renewing decorations and carpets where necessary
• Providing gas safety certificates and electrical tests

A copy of the PSL Minimum Standards is attached at Appendix A.

Grant Monies and Repayment Options

Grants are available up to a maximum of £10,000 per property to meet the costs incurred (including fees and charges) to bring the property up to the ‘PSL Minimum Standards’. The grant is repayable to the Council either upon a disposition (death, transfer or sale) secured either by way of a land registry charge if the property is registered or if unregistered by a local land charge. Alternatively, the owner may choose to repay the grant earlier, e.g. by taking a reduced rent.

If the works required are above the maximum amount of £10,000, you may still be considered for a grant under the Empty Homes Scheme if you agree to pay the remaining balance for the works to be completed. Payment options include:
• payment in full of the remaining balance upon completion of works to King Street Housing Society,
• payment of the remaining balance to be recovered over the term of the lease through paying you a reduced rent,
• a Council loan up to a maximum of £15,000 on a fixed term rate of 1% above the PWLB (Public Works Loan Board) for the life of the loan (currently at approximately 3%). This loan would need to be repaid via rent foregone on the property in the first 2-3 years of the lease.

Each request will be considered on an individual basis taking into account financial circumstances and funding availability. The terms and conditions for repayment of the grant/loan will need to be approved prior to commencement of works.

Conditions of Grant

The property must be made available to the Private Sector Leasing Scheme currently run by King Street Housing Society for a minimum period of six years once it meets the ‘PSL Minimum Standards’. See Appendix B for details on the PSL Scheme.

To bring the property up to the ‘PSL Minimum Standards’ the owner will enter into an agreement with King Street Housing Society to carry out the necessary works. King Street Housing Society will:
• Carry out an initial inspection of the property
• Obtain quotations for your approval of the works
• Submit quotations to the Council for approval of grant
• Instruct contractors to carry out the works
• Monitor the works to ensure compliance with the schedule
• Complete a final inspection of the works with you
• Arrange payment to the contractors

Please note that the Private Sector Leasing Agreement between King Street Housing Society and the owner must be signed and agreed prior to commencement of works.

Availability of Funding

In certain circumstances, the Council receives money in lieu of affordable housing on new developments. This money can only be used for the provision of affordable housing within the District. The Council has agreed that a proportion of this money can be used to fund the Empty Homes Grant Initiative.

Unfortunately, there are limited funds available and applications will be assessed using the scoring matrix detailed at Appendix C to prioritise funding. Once the funding for that year has been spent, a waiting list will be held to take forward into the next financial year.

Payment of Grant

King Street Housing Society will submit a ‘Certificate of Satisfaction’ form to the Council once the works have been completed detailing all costs incurred. Upon receipt the Council will pay King Street Housing Society up to a maximum of £10,000 for the grant and any additional money agreed through a loan agreement if applicable. King Street Housing Society will make arrangements with the owner for payment if there is any remaining balance to be recovered through the other payment options agreed.

Making an Application

An application for an Empty Homes Grant will be made through the Council’s application process – see flowchart at Appendix D for further details.

The Empty Homes Grant Application Form must be used and will be checked against Council Tax records to ensure the property has been vacant for over 6 months and ownership will be verified through Land Registry. For properties that are not registered at the Land Registry, a certificate of ownership must be provided.

All applications will be dealt with in order of receipt and acknowledged within 10 working days. King Street Housing Society will be contacted to undertake an assessment of the property with regard to its location, property size and its condition and will make a final decision as to its suitability for the Private Sector Leasing Scheme.

Approvals for grant applications will be made by the Housing Strategy and Development Manager, following King Street Housing Society’s recommendation and the owner’s permission to proceed. Additional payment options (where applicable) also need to be agreed at this stage. The owner will be notified in writing whether the application for grant assistance is successful. The notification will include the terms and conditions of the grant, and additional payment options (where applicable) which the owner will need to sign and return to the Council. Upon receipt, this will be forwarded to King Street Housing Society to arrange for the works to be completed.

If the property is subject to a mortgage, the mortgage lender’s permission to the scheme will be required.

Further Conditions of Grant

Empty Homes Grants will be secured either by way of a land registry charge or a land charge against the property and will be repayable either upon a disposition (death, transfer or sale) - there will be no time limit to the charge - or through repayment with the owner receiving a reduced rent. Any additional payments will also have a charge to the property until the additional funding has been repaid.

The owner must enter into a lease agreement with King Street Housing Society to let its property under the Private Sector Leasing Scheme for a minimum period of 6 years prior to commencement of works. If this lease is terminated early, the owner will be liable for full repayment of the grant to the Council and any outstanding additional funding provided.

The property will be let at an Affordable Rent to be agreed with King Street Housing Society. The rent must not exceed 80% of market rents and be below the Local Housing Allowance rate for that area. All other terms and conditions and charges for letting the property will be as set out in the Private Sector Leasing Scheme Agreement