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					May

2009
THE EMPTY HOMES AGENCY

Monthly News Bulletin

Empty Homes Agency, Downstream Building, 1 London Bridge, London, SE1 9BG Tel: 020 7022 1870 Email: shashi.ioannides@emptyhomes.com Statements in this newsletter are for guidance only and the Empty Homes Agency will not accept liability for losses resulting from reliance on them. Professional advice should always be obtained.

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A Word…. VAT: What excuse will the Government think up next? EDMOs Guide - now in Word! Latest news

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A Word…
David Ireland, Chief Executive
The only previous time I had stood in Downing Street I was a boy visiting with my parents. We were free to wander down the road then, and even hang about hoping to catch a glimpse of then PM Jim Callaghan. We didn‟t see him, and a few weeks later he was an opposition MP. This time (just two weeks ago) I was not going to Downing Street to gawp. High tech security gates and armed guards have put pay to that sort of activity anyway, but I was going to hand in the Inside Housing petition with the magazine‟s features editor Caroline Thorpe. No doubt Gordon Brown has a few other things on his mind this week, not least of which may be the prospect of shortly following in Jim Callaghan‟s footsteps. But I would like to think he spared a few minutes to look at this petition. It received widespread support from many of the most respected people in the housing profession and has helped change people‟s views and achieve some remarkable outcomes in a very short time. It identified three vital deficiencies in this country‟s approach to empty homes. VAT on refurbishment costs, inflexible grants for housing associations that often preclude empty homes refurbishment costs, and poor local authority use of EDMOs. Let „s just have a look at what has happened in the last few weeks, and ask yourself would all this have happened anyway? Back in February David Cameron launched the Conservatives policy on empty homes Their Empty property rescue plan was the first time the party has set out their plans on empty homes. We warmly welcomed it, understanding as it did, that the present rules around housing association grants were unhelpful and prevented housing associations claiming grant for work involving returning empty homes to use. Barely a week later the Vince Cable and Sarah Teather launched the Liberal Democrat‟s empty homes proposals. Setting out not only how they would amend housing association grant rules, but reduce VAT on refurbishment of all empty homes. We were greatly encouraged by this too. It was the first time that a major political party has explicitly stated what many people think. VAT rules on refurbishment urgently need reform. In March the government responded. Margaret Beckett endorsed the EHA‟s new EDMO guidance and issued a call to all councils to improve their performance on bringing empty homes into use. She also promised to write to all councils and hold a seminar for councils to help share the good practice of the best. The seminar took place in April and I was delighted to be one of the speakers. The main speaker was housing minister Iain Wright who gave an excellent and very positive speech, and perhaps even more remarkably stayed for the whole event. He was even a member of my workshop group on housing association funding!

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After the politicians had had their say, attention inevitably fell on the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA). Later in March their Director of Strategy Trevor Beattie spoke at our spring conference in London. In a guarded speech he nevertheless said for the first time that the HCA saw a role for itself in tackling empty homes. A few days later HCA Chief executive Sir Bob Kerslake and I were invited on to BBC breakfast TV to discuss the issue. Sir Bob was very clear that the HCA needed to do more to help bring empty homes into use and announced that the HCA would be more flexible in judging grant applications for refurbishment schemes for empty homes. The HCA have since agreed to put out a technical note to explain the new grant flexibilities. During this time too we have seen some of the best news for years on VAT on refurbishment (see Henry‟s note on ECOFIN later in this bulletin). So along with positive clout from opposition parties, government pressure on councils to act and new funding for housing associations. It‟s been a highly successful three months. So would all of this have happened anyway? I‟ll let you be the judge. But to have achieved so much progress on these three vital issues has been remarkable. David Ireland Chief Executive Empty Homes Agency Tel: 020 7022 1867 Email: david.ireland@emptyhomes.com

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VAT: what excuse will the Government think up next?
I‟m delighted to report that, following extensive campaigning by the “Cut the VAT” campaign of which the Empty Homes Agency is a prominent member, the ECOFIN (European Council of Finance Ministers) meeting on 10th March decided that the VAT Directive should be amended to allow member states to levy lower rates on certain labour-intensive services, including building repairs and maintenance and refurbishment. Two cheers for ECOFIN, then (rates on things that already attract VAT may not be changed to below 5%). No cheers for the UK Government , however – at least not yet. For years (and years) the Government has sued EU rules as its primary reason for not taking action to redress the gross disparity between tax rates for new build (nothing) and refurbishment (mostly 17.5% - now temporarily 15%) – a gap that delays and cripples re-use and regeneration, while encouraging wasteful demolition and unnecessary new construction. There have been no signs so far that the Treasury is interested in taking the opportunity that the removal of the „EU excuse‟ offers. The Budget contained plenty on new build but not a word on this, and in a letter to the Cut the VAT campaign the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Stephen Timms MP, has expressed serious reservations about the benefits a VAT cut would bestow. So, while we wonder what excuse the Government will come up with next for carrying on doing nothing about the scandal of VAT, we and our partners in the Cut the Vat campaign are looking at how we can build an economic case and broad political support for change - a case that might even persuade the Treasury.

Henry Oliver Policy Advisor Empty Homes Agency Tel: 020 7022 1869 Email: henry.oliver@emptyhomes.com

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EDMOs Guide - now in Word!
As you may have seen, we formally launched the EDMOs Guide in March. This was timed to coincide with a splash by the Department for Communities and Local Government on empty homes that, while it didn‟t contain much that was new, was nevertheless a welcome Government acknowledgment of the problem. To read the press reports you might be forgiven for thinking it was Margaret Beckett and her officials who wrote the EDMOs Guide, but if that makes it seem more important and official that‟s fine by us. Since then, we‟ve had quite a few requests for something that can be printed and passed around. The snag is that, because the Guide is designed to be web-based, it‟s difficult to do it justice on paper. By using MS Word we‟ve managed to keep some of the web functions, notably the hyperlinked references to legislation; in fact the only things we‟ve had to leave out are some of the internal cross-reference links and the flow chart – which simply wouldn‟t fit. That said, we still recommend that wherever possible readers also have a look at the web version. If you‟d like to download a copy of the Word version please go to: http://www.emptyhomes.com/documents/publications/edmo/edmoguide_word.doc

And we‟re still after your EDMO case studies – you can either write it up yourself or brief me and I‟ll ghost it for you. If you‟ve got lessons to share or successes to shout about, please drop me a line.
Henry Oliver Policy Advisor Empty Homes Agency Tel: 020 7022 1869 Email: henry.oliver@emptyhomes.com

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Latest News
House building plans 'in trouble' - 28th March 2009 BBC News - UK But housing bodies are calling on the government to do more, including invest in the uk's one million empty homes. In 2007, Gordon Brown promised to build ... BBC NEWS | UK | Empty homes 'important' to scheme - 2nd April 2009 Mar 28, 2009 ... As the government admits its plans for new houses have stalled because of the recession, there are calls to make better use of the thousands ... Budget is 'failed opportunity' to tackle growing energy crisis in ... 22nd April 2009 24dash - Hereford,UK ... UK Green Building Council, Sustainable Energy Academy, Places for People, Co-operative Bank, National Grid, and the Empty Homes Agency. Countryside Alliance - VAT cut “key to affordable housing” Politics.co.uk - London,UK With the Empty Homes Agency predicting that the number of empty homes in the UK will top one million by the end of 2009, and the number of people who are on ...

For more latest Empty Homes Agency Press Releases please visit: http://www.emptyhomes.com/latestnews/latest_news.html

For Other News on the empty property issue please visit: http://emptyhomesnews.blogspot.com/

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