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Empty homes

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Copeland Borough Council are urging people with empty homes to bring their properties back to life and help manage housing needs in the area. In 2018 MHCLG reports there were over 634,453 empty homes in England and as of 1 October 2018 216,186 of these were ‘long-term’ empties (empty more than six months). In Copeland there were 847 long term empties in 2018, the second highest number in England, whilst at the same time there is a shortage of decent affordable housing in the Borough.  We are actively looking to bring these long term empty properties back into use.

Our empty homes officer will work directly with the owners of empty homes to give advice on returning their property back into use, however, if owners refuse to engage or fail to make satisfactory progress to bring the properties back into use, we can carry out enforcement action. You can read more about empty homes issues on the Empty homes agency website (

How can you help?

We need the help of Residents, Landlords and Owners to help us identify all empty flats and houses in the Borough, so that we can bring them back into use. If you wish to report an empty property please complete our reporting form here or e mail

What should I do if I own a property that is unoccupied?

An empty home is a wasted home that costs you money.  It could be lived in by someone who needs it.  It could be an asset to you and the local community.

Here are a few ideas to help you decide.

You could choose to sell using an agent or at a property auction. Matchmaking services can match buyers with an empty home for sale.  Some can pay for repairs before a sale. Think about renting out your home, either let it yourself or use a letting agent.

Selling using an estate agent

Using an estate agent or solicitor
An estate agent or solicitor can look after the whole process of selling your property. They can do valuations, marketing, negotiate the sale price and the financial and legal process.

They can give professional advice like an appropriate asking price. They tend to know the type of buyer who would be interested in the property.  And they'll help tell you what to do to increase the chance of a sale.  If your property isn’t selling they could tell you if anything is putting off buyers and what to do about it.

It’s good to build a relationship with your estate agent or solicitor and contact them often for updates.  You need to trust them with a very valuable asset.  For example you can ask how viewings are going and for feedback after a viewing.  It’s good to keep your property at the top of your agent’s mind while it’s for sale.

Selling at a property auction

To sell at auction is quick but you need to be realistic with the price for your property and don’t forget commission charges.  If your property needs repairs this can appeal to buyers wanting to renovate.  It can also give hard-up first-time buyers a chance to buy a property at a lower price and take their time to do it up when they can afford it.

Please use the following links to external companies as a starting point for your own research.  These companies were found during online research, as a council we can’t recommend any one company.

Auction House Cumbria


The North West Property Auction iamsold


Cumbrian properties in partnership with HomeSearch Direct (Carlisle) Ltd


Costs of selling your property

When you put your empty home up for sale you’ll need to budget for various costs, for example an Energy performance certificate (EPC) as well as fees for marketing the property (brochure, online advertising, arranging viewings). There will be agents and legal fees for conveyancing and estate agent charges. These can be between roughly 1% and 3.5% for a sole agency agreement.  Remember this may not include VAT (at 20%).  You may also want to carry out repairs to the property.

Some agents don’t charge ‘upfront’ costs and only ask you to pay their fee once the property is sold.

Which estate agent to choose?

Choosing the right agent is very important.  The right agent could get a really good price but the wrong one could lose you a sale.  Remember the agent works for you. So how to choose the right one? Here are some ideas

How will the agent market your property?

Good agents are usually proactive and invest in marketing a property to make sure it sells at the best price.  Do they advertise in the papers?  (If so, which ones?)  Will they advertise your property in their shop window? For how long?   If your property is more expensive, will they feature it in a national magazine or paper? 

Online estate agents

These can be much cheaper than local estate agents but there’s a big variety in price and quality.  They usually advertise your property on websites like rightmove (, zoopla ( or primelocation (  If you choose this route try to get some local agents to value your home first.  This will give you an idea of the rough price for your property.  Some online agents will carry out viewings for you.  Others may arrange a convenient time between you and a buyer.  They may charge you for a ‘for sale’ board.

Selling your home yourself

You may choose this route and use a website which lets you list your property and market it to potential buyers.  But they won’t be able to market your house on the big property portals like rightmove, zoopla or primelocation.  This means your property may not be seen by so many prospective buyers.  Although this seems like a cheaper way to sell your empty home, you may not get the best price and it may cost you more in the long run. 

Homes matching

Help with repairs before selling

A homes matching service could help pay for your repairs before you sell your property. A big advantage to the buyer is that they could get a mortgage for a higher-priced property. BUT if they’d bought the property before repairs it could be more difficult for them to get a mortgage afterwards.

Homes matching providers can list repairs necessary, price them up and get an independent valuation They can manage repairs needed at no upfront cost to you and labour can be locally sourced if possible. All work is usually paid for through an increased sales price afterwards.  

Homes matching providers can also find buyers for your empty home. For example if there is a suitable buyer match and the property needs repairs before selling, the buyer can choose what they would like done before they buy (the buyer will have signed an agreement beforehand so they can't back out during or after repairs).

Selling an empty home using a homes matching service

If you're having difficulty selling then a homes matching service can work with your estate agent to help double the advertising efforts (at no extra charge). 

The matching service could find a suitable buyer too.  The estate agent still gets their sales commission, it doesn’t cost them money and helps add value through extra advertising.

If your property is not yet for sale but is in good condition, then homes matching services sometimes work in partnership with a firm of solicitors who carry out the sales process for you.

Please use the following link as a starting point for your own research.  This company was found during online research.  This could help you decide the best way to bring your empty home back into use. As the Council we can't recommend any one company.



Another choice may be property guardianship. 

What is it?

  • It can help keep a property ‘lived in’ and secure
  • If you have guardians living in your empty home it means you could pay less council tax and insurance
  • Guardians living in the property can spot things that have gone wrong so they can be dealt with quickly
  • Guardians are NOT tenants and it’s not a tenancy.  Instead the property guardianship company grants a guardian licence to occupy a unit.

Who are the property guardians?

Guardians are strictly vetted and are usually people who need flexible and affordable accommodation.   Many are professionals, key workers or mature and post-graduate students.  It can also provide people saving a deposit to buy a house and people ‘trying out’ living in an area before they buy.  It can also include people who need accommodation for career purposes like nurses and engineers. 

How does it usually work?

When the owner is interested, the property guardian company will arrange a visit to see if the property is suitable.  Some property guardian companies can pay for and carry out repairs if needed.  Usually the owner grants the property guardian company a Property protection Agreement for the premises.

The owner and property guardian company usually have the right to enter the property at all times.  There may be no set period of contract, for example just 31 days’ notice for hand-back.

Property guardianship doesn’t appeal to all empty home owners but it may be good for those whose properties take a long time to sell as it would keep the property lived in and in a ‘viewable’ condition.

There is no overall regulatory body at the moment for property guardianship, so the decision on which company to choose (as an owner or guardian) will be down to your careful research.

Please use the following links to external companies as a starting point for your own research.  These companies were found during online research.  As a Council we can’t recommend any one company. 

Adhoc (

Camelot (

Elite guardians (

Global guardians (

How much could your empty property be costing you?

Your empty property could be costing you several thousand pounds every year in council tax, utilities, standing charges, insurance and deterioration.

In addition, you are losing out on potential revenue from lost rent.  Typical rental figures (Local Housing Allowance levels per annum) in the Copeland area for 2019/20 are:

Shared Accommodation (under 35’s) £290.76 pcm

One bed £343.37 pcm

Two bed £398.88 pcm

Three bed £454.52 pcm

Four bed £580.75 pcm

Tax relief on renovations and alterations on residential properties.

Renovations and alterations to residential properties that have been empty, continuously, for two or more years could save you 15% VAT on lots of repair costs.  If you use a VAT registered contractor and you don’t buy materials or do the work yourself you can make great savings.

We can write you a letter confirming how long your home has been empty.  Just give that letter to your builder and they can charge you only 5% VAT (instead of the usual 20%) on lots of services.  You just need to prove first that you are the named owner of the property.

Further information on this reduced rate can be found in Section 8 of Public notice 708 VAT: Buildings and Construction, available from the National Advice Service on 0845 0109000 or downloadable from HMRC website at

Additional costs

Empty homes can attract vandals, fly tipping and the property deteriorates faster requiring additional maintenance.  This could all reduce the value of the property.  The property could also be subject to enforcement action by the Council.

Enforcement action

As a last resort, we will take enforcement action, in order to ensure that the property is brought back into use and does not remain an empty resource.

If you own or know of an empty property which should be a home, please e mail our Empty Homes Officer at or call 01946 598300.