Since 2012, the SEHP has instigated and run several Kickstarter and Shared Service projects across Scotland.
During the period of this report, the SEHP part funded Kickstarter projects across 3 local authorities. The funding comes with consultancy support from the empty homes team as well as an advisory steer. Any council that does not have an EHO can be provided with tailored empty homes information that can help to make the case for a service.
South Lanarkshire Council
The empty homes officer started in August 2020 and put in place much of the foundations of the empty homes service. However, there was a minor setback when this officer left, and a replacement was recruited in July 2021. The new officer is struggling to get ongoing engagement with owners of empty homes, especially as there is no current ability to grant discretion with the vacant dwelling council tax, which is shown in other authorities as an incentive for contact. However, it should be noted that the officer has so far been successful in supporting 11 homes to be brought back into use.
Scottish Borders Council
The empty homes officer started in early August 2021 and since then has made considerable impact. The officer started with reviewing the empty homes data available and has established 3 postcodes where there are concentrations of empty homes. This has helped to inform the council’s wider strategic plans. In December 2021, a report was put to council committee asking for approval to allocate £500k from the second homes council tax affordable housing investment budget to provide grant assistance to owners of empty properties to help bring them back into use as housing. This has been approved and the EHO is working on some of the outline terms and conditions.
Since coming into post, the EHO has sent out 753 letters to owners of empty properties, and an update has been received that 204 of these homes are no longer recorded as empty.
Of these the three main reasons for occupation are:
• 26% have been rented
• 19% owners have moved into following renovations and
• 20% have been sold with new owners occupying the homes
• 14% are now either on exemption, been revalued or now a second home and
• 21% other.
The Highland Council EHO started in post at the end of August 2021. Since then, various activities have been carried out to develop the project. This has included setting up digital infrastructure, the development of a database and correspondence for owners of empty properties. The officer is currently writing the criteria for the empty property purchase scheme and compiling details for the development of an empty homes loan and grant scheme. The EHO is in discussion with colleagues in other services about the setting up of an empty homes working group to share initial information. Information sharing between services has been positive, and the EHO is looking to standardise this sharing of information through a form similar to a model employed by colleagues in Aberdeen. Initial discussions regarding a quarterly working group have been encouraging, with Environmental Health and Building Standards committing to being part of the group. While there have been no completed outcomes recorded as of yet, there are many interesting case studies that are progressing.