OWNERS of vacant properties are being urged to make the most of assistance available to them through North Devon Council as it supports National Empty Homes Week for another year.

National Empty Homes Week 2024 starts today, Monday, March 4.

The campaign gives local authorities the opportunity to publicise the information and assistance available for owners of empty properties to help bring them back to use, as well as offering residents advice on how to report any empty homes in their neighbourhoods which are causing concern.

North Devon Council has continued to work hard to reduce the number of empty homes in its area and is exploring a number of housing initiatives to support and encourage empty home owners to bring their properties back into use.

These include:

• a continuing partnership with Lendology to provide affordable loans to empty home owners to renovate, develop and convert their properties to provide housing to people to live and work in North Devon.

• a private sector leasing scheme for landowners looking for tenants. This reduces the demand for housing in North Devon, as well as ensuring landlords have their council tax paid for and receive a regular income.

• a matchmaker service, connecting owners of empty homes with potential buyers, investors or developers. The service aims to match owners of empty homes (who would like to sell their property) with people who want to buy an empty home.

• efforts to identify long-term vacant properties where the owner has passed away some time ago and the home remains unoccupied. The council is exploring ways to trace and engage with the next of kin of deceased owners of empty homes and will be exploring how they can provide help and advice to executors on probate - as well as supporting executors to dispose of an estate following grant of probate.

• using new government powers to charge a council tax premium from April 2024 on properties left empty for more than one year. Currently, a premium is applied only on properties left empty for more than two years. From April 2025, the council will charge a council tax premium on all second homes, which it hopes will have a positive impact and further encourage empty home owners to act.

• targeting those empty homes with large council tax arrears. The council has taken action to recover those debts and have been extremely successful. Some owners have decided to sell their empty home and paid their council tax debt out of the proceeds, whilst others have paid their council tax arrears and retained their property. The council has one current empty home case where they have secured an interim charging order to recover council tax arrears in respect of the empty home.

Lendology is a social enterprise lender which provides empty property loans to homeowners which help spread the costs of renovation projects. Lendology is able to consider applications from individuals who may have inherited a property but are unsure of how to bring it back into use, through to companies converting a portfolio of properties. 

Owners can also opt to defer repayments for up to two years, allowing those with empty homes the time to complete their renovations before repayments start.

Lead Member for Housing at North Devon Council, Councillor Graham M Bell says: "National Empty Homes Week is a great opportunity to promote the support we are able to provide to empty home owners, and those impacted by empty homes.

"By restoring these properties, North Devon Council's Empty Homes team is reducing the risks of antisocial behaviour associated with derelict buildings, and also building an effective, affordable way to help growing local families find safe, secure homes in their communities.

"I am very pleased to see that Lendology has been listed as one of the Big Issue's 'Top 10 Changemakers in 2024'.

"Lendology's empty property loans can help spread out the cost of renovations, and give owners more incentive to turn their empty properties into homes."

Information and advice on the Empty Homes Project, including how to report an empty home and advice for home owners, is now available on the council's website at: www.northdevon.gov.uk/housing/empty-homes-project

For more information about the loan scheme, visit: www.lendology.org.uk or call Lendology on 01823 461099.