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Empty properties

The facts     

Empty homes cause problems, can attract vandals or become overgrown and filled with rubbish. If this happens, they soon become an eyesore and can affect the value of surrounding properties, becoming a safety risk to children. Local indicators suggest there are currently 935 long-term, private sector, vacant properties within St Helens.

What are we doing about it?

In 2003, we introduced our first empty property strategy to target long term and problematic vacant properties with the appointment of a dedicated Empty Property Officer. To date, a total of 750 vacant properties have been demolished or brought back into use (February 2017 data).

Vacant property before Vacant property after

We have an Empty Homes Strategy, which provides a range of tools available for action to be taken in respect of long-term, privately owned, vacant properties.

Objectives of the strategy

The objectives of this strategy include:

  • Maximising the re-use of and reducing the number of empty properties across the borough.
  • Providing good, quality, affordable housing and improving the liveability factor in all our neighbourhoods.
  • Working with partner agencies to tackle anti-social behaviour by reducing availability of empty properties as a target for vandalism and fly-tipping.
  • Improving performance against the current national performance indicator for taking action against empty properties.
  • Reducing the number of dwellings that fail to meet the national statutory minimum standard for housing.

This strategy is concerned with properties that have been vacant for more than six months. Reasons why a property may be empty for a short period of time can vary and be a result of local market turnover, refurbishment or probate issues. However, the main concern of this strategy relates to properties where there is no real reason why they should not be occupied.

Preventative toolkit

Wherever possible, we try to prevent properties being left vacant in the long term by providing informal advice and assistance in cases where owners are not sure of their rights and responsibilities.

Enforcement toolkit

We aim to bring empty properties back to use by a process of negotiation and support. However, in severe cases where the owner refuses to meet their responsibilities, formal intervention may be necessary.

This intervention can take several forms, from the serving of statutory notices to deal with immediate issues such as rubbish and dangerous structures, to the use of Compulsory Purchase, Enforced Sale and Empty Dwelling Management Order.

To date, under this initiative, we have successfully compulsory purchased seven properties.

VAT reductions

Two-year discount

  • Are you refurbishing a property that has been empty for two years?
  • Will it be used for residential purposes once renovations are complete?
  • Is a builder completing the work?

Then you may be eligible for a reduced rate of VAT (currently 5%) on the works of repair, maintenance or improvement. To apply for this you must complete a HMRC 708 form.

Ten-year discount

  • Are you refurbishing a property that has been empty for 10 years or more?
  • Will it be used for residential purposes by you or your family after the completion of renovations?

To apply for this you must complete a HMRC 431C form. You may be eligible for zero-rated VAT on the works of repair, maintenance or improvement. The best evidence to give HMRC to support your claim is a written statement from our Empty Property Officer confirming the empty period. If our Empty Property Officer is unsure about when a property was last lived in, they will write with the best estimate. HMRC may then call for other supporting evidence.

What should you do if a vacant property near you is causing concern?

You can report your concern about a vacant property near to you by contacting the Empty Homes Team on 01744 676246 or by email at contactcentre@sthelens.gov.uk.

Please provide as much information as possible and a member of the team will investigate further.