Empty Homes (Hyndburn)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 1:43 pm on 13th December 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Communities and Local Government 1:43 pm, 13th December 2011

I hope to develop that point in the remainder of my remarks. The new homes bonus year goes from October to September. In the first 12 months, £19 million was paid out in new homes bonus to local authorities for bringing empty homes back into use. I accept that the figure was modest for Hyndburn borough. It had a net decrease of six empty homes and was paid £12,537 as a result. In the second year, which ended this September, Hyndburn had a net decrease of 31 empty homes and will receive an additional £25,460. In total, because the scheme runs for six years, this year it will receive £37, 997. That is the existing mechanism in place.

The housing strategy added a £100 million fund to bring empty homes back into use as affordable housing. Housing associations and local authorities can apply via the Homes and Communities Agency. The bidding guidance for that was launched by the HCA on 21 November and the deadline for applications is 23 January 2012. The HCA bidding guidance sets out that the ultimate landlord of the property must be a registered provider of social housing. That point was made by the hon. Gentleman, both in his intervention in the debate the other day and again today. It is true that bids must come from a current registered provider or an organisation that intends to apply to become one.

I have some good news for the hon. Gentleman. Local authorities that are not currently registered providers—usually because they were housing authorities but have transferred their stock—can still access the funding. There are two routes by which they can do so, the first of which is by partnering a housing association that is a registered provider, as I set out in a letter that I sent yesterday to the hon. Gentleman, which I hope he has received. The second route is to become a registered provider itself.

Hyndburn borough council is not currently a registered provider. What does it need to do to become one and therefore become eligible to make a bid against the £100 million directly, rather than working through a partner? Under section 114A of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, all that it has to do is to notify the Tenant Services Authority by letter that it intends to become a provider of social housing, owing to a change in circumstances. In this case, the change in circumstances would involve gaining access to the empty homes funding allocated via the HCA. It does not need to fill in the application form on the TSA website or go through the full application process. It will simply be added to the register as a registered provider of social housing within a few days of notification of its intention to do so.

I strongly suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he may want to get on the phone straight after the debate to recommend to Hyndburn borough council that it does exactly that. It can then choose either route for accessing the money: either to bid in association with a registered provider, such as the housing association that is managing its housing stock, or to make a separate application to become a registered provider itself. I hope that that gives him the confidence that he needs that this scheme is open and accessible to his local authority.

The hon. Gentleman made a number of other points, including that the housing stock in Hyndburn is not of the right mix or quality. The empty homes strategy will not address that to a serious degree; other elements of the housing strategy will be helpful. We have in place a social and affordable home construction programme: 170,000 social and affordable homes are to be built by 2015. The affordable home model is providing new homes in every housing authority area in England, including Hyndburn. Again, those homes are being delivered through registered providers, and the hon. Gentleman might want to check with the HCA the nature of the bids that have been made and accepted by the HCA for his area.

We are, of course, continuing to fund a substantial decent homes programme to bring social housing stock up to standard. The hon. Gentleman did not specifically set out the case in Hyndburn, but the number of non-decent homes has been halved since the Government came to office 18 months ago. We have a substantial decent homes investment programme and have made substantial progress already. I apologise, Ms Osborne, I wish to correct that figure. We have reduced the number of non-decent homes it by 26% and are on course to halve it by the end of this Parliament. That involves more than £2 billion in investment, which shows not only earnest of intent but good news for Hyndburn.

The hon. Gentleman appealed to my better nature with regard to how the funding for the additional £50 million is to be set out. The fund was announced on 21 November and is designed to tackle some of the worst concentrations of empty homes in areas of low demand. I put it to him that that money is essentially targeted at areas such as Hyndburn. That is, of course, on top of the money that he referred to, to ensure that the worst excesses of the market renewal project are patched up in the areas of greatest need. The bid submitted by Hyndburn and other local authorities in east Lancashire was accepted in full by the Department.

The funding details for the additional £50 million have not yet been finalised. Further details will be announced shortly. There are key differences between the £100 million fund for social and affordable housing and the new £50 million fund. In particular, it will not be appropriate under the additional programme for all the homes to be brought back into use as affordable housing. The schemes are all backed by cash rewards through the new homes bonus. We have also made it clear that the £50 million fund will take into account the need to look at environmental and broader works in association with bringing homes back into use, not simply the refurbishment of the homes themselves.

The hon. Gentleman also drew attention to the plans that we are currently consulting on regarding the introduction of an empty homes premium, to be a strong encouragement to landlords and home owners to bring homes back on to the market or into productive use. That consultation is going on and I take the hon. Gentleman’s contribution to this debate as a response to that consultation in favour of the introduction of the empty homes premium. I would be even happier if he wrote formally to the Department to put that clearly on the record.