Gavin Handman, who runs property guardian company, Guardians of London, believes that the recent launch of a national empty homes loan scheme, helping owners of empty homes bring them back into use, is a good initiative in principle.
There are around 710,000 empty homes in England, with many going unoccupied because the owners are unable to bring them up to a habitable standard, according to the charity Empty Homes. The National Empty Homes Loan Fund (NEHLF), launched earlier this week, offers secured loans of up to £15,000, at a fixed 5% interest rate, to owners in this situation, so they can refurbish the properties and bring them back into use as affordable housing.
However, Gavin does have some reservations about the caveats that may come with the loan: “Can you use the property or do you have to hand it over to someone to use for a certain amount of time. If you put it back into use and squatters manage to get in before you rent it out, then what? How can you pay the loan back? And how easy is it to secure the loan if you have poor credit or do not meet the criteria?”
Established as a joint initiative between Empty Homes, Ecology Building Society, central government and 39 participating local authorities, the scheme brings to life the demands of last year’s Great British Property Scandal campaign. The campaign was led by architect and broadcaster George Clarke, who is also the Government’s independent empty homes ambassador.
The NEHLF has been funded by a grant of £3 million from central government and is being administered by Ecology Building Society, a specialist mortgage lender that supports sustainable communities.
It is expected to provide funding for ‘hundreds of properties’ and is available to individuals aged 18 and over who own a property that has been empty for six months or more. “We know that many homes are empty because it is difficult for owners to raise the money that is required to bring them back up to a habitable standard. This initiative will kick-start efforts to tackle this,” said David Ireland OBE, chief executive of Empty Homes.
Gavin commented: “If there are 700,000 empty properties, will a couple of million pounds cover the cost for them all? It’s also worth considering what £15k can buy you in the way of preparing a property for use. Not much, I suspect.”
Communities minister Don Foster has said that this innovative new scheme will ensure properties that would otherwise have stood empty for many months can offer stable homes for people in need.
However, Gavin Handman believes that these sort of schemes should also inform landlords of empty properties about the benefits of using a property guardian services, which can save them money on protecting their empty buildings, until they can bring them fully back into use. He said:
“Instead of paying out for expensive security firms or boarding up their empty buildings to prevent damage and occupation by squatters, it’s worthwhile for landlords to consider putting carefully vetted property guardians (usually professionals or key workers) into their building, until they have been able to update them and bring them back into use as part of this scheme.”