Home » Merthyr Tydfil council approves Welsh Govt. grant scheme for empty homes.
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Merthyr Tydfil council approves Welsh Govt. grant scheme for empty homes.

Merthyr Tydfil Civic Centre

PEOPLE in Merthyr Tydfil who own empty homes are set to be able to apply for £25,000 grants to bring the buildings back into use.

Councillors in Merthyr Tydfil have approved the council signing up to a Welsh Government grant scheme designed to help bring empty homes back into use.

Merthyr Tydfil council will have to contribute a maximum of £62,000 in 2023-4 towards the National Empty Homes Grant scheme and a similar amount in 2024-5. The Welsh Government will provide an indicative allocation  of £621,000 which is the maximum allocation available.

If take up is lower than the maximum allocation then less matched funding will be required.

People applying for the grant must own an empty home in Merthyr Tydfil which has been registered as vacant for at least 12 months. They must be owners or prospective owners who who intend to occupy the empty home as their main and only residence, for a minimum of five years.

The scheme is the is the successor to the Valley Task Force Empty Homes Grant (VTF EHG).

Council officers previously gave “in principle”  support to participating in the grant programme launching in April 2023 and a report approved by full council on Wednesday, April 19 recommended the council participates in the new programme.
The report for full council said: “Empty private sector homes represent a wasted resource and financial expense both to the owners and the Council and in many cases a missed opportunity to provide much needed affordable housing for residents.

“Not only are they a waste of a valuable housing resource, but they can cause a blight to communities and distress to residents affected by their unsightly appearance and attract crime and anti-social behaviour.”

It said that over the last few years, the council has developed many tools and approaches to encourage empty homes to be brought back into use which have had a positive impact.

The council has recently approved a policy to charge a 100% council tax premium on long-term empty properties that have been empty in excess of 12 months.

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This took effect from April 1 this year and now the council wants to be able to offer grant assistance to owners and prospective owners of long term empty properties.

The report said; “This grant will furthermore support the delivery of the council’s and Welsh Government’s priority of returning empty properties into use in the Merthyr Tydfil area, to help regenerate communities, provide more choice and suitable accommodation for residents.”

The council previously participated in the Valley Task Force (VTF) Empty Homes grant initiative in 2020/2021 and 2021/2022 which resulted in 17 properties receiving grant aid so that they would be returned to beneficial use, 14 of which have been completed.

This was achieved at an approximate total cost of just under £197,000 of which £134,000 was provided by VTF grant assistance, £63,000 from the council and £101,700 from the applicant.

The Welsh Government (WG) are replacing the Valley Task Force (VTF) Empty

Homes Grant (EHG) initiative with a similar national scheme.

The report said that Welsh Government are committed to maximising the return to use of privately owned empty properties linked to their enforcement agenda, unmet housing need issues and more recently linking into the

cost-of-living crisis, all of which the council says are aims that it shares.

The national scheme has received ministerial approval and was launched in January 2023 with £50 million has been set aside for the programme over a two year period, with allocations of £25m in 2023/2024 and £25m in 2024/2025.

The report said it will be very similar to the Valleys Task Force Empty Homes Grant, available to empty property owners who want to become owner-occupiers.

There is an initial allocation to each council based on council tax data relating to the number of empty homes for the specific year and for Merthyr Tydfil in 2022/2023 this is 2.48%.

Based on this, during 2023/2024 the allocation to the council would be approximately £621,000.

If, as expected, there is demand from property owners for the total allocation, the council contribution towards these grants at 10% would be approximately £62,000.

Based on a £25,000 maximum grant, this would bring back approximately 25 empty homes in year one, the report said.

The qualifying period for an empty home will be 12 months and the scheme will be administered nationally to ensure consistency and help with the tight delivery time-scales of the programme as well as considering local capacity issues.

The scheme will be administered by Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council.

In terms of the grant allocation formula, it will be a hybrid of both nominal allocation and demand led allocation where the initial allocation is nominal for each council to ensure fairness but with spend being monitored and recovered as well as redistributed if not effectively used.

There will be a maximum grant of £25,000 to include energy efficiency requirements. and the council’s contribution in match funding will be 10% with a maximum of £25,000 per property.

The applicant contribution will be 15% of the cost of the works up to a maximum of £3,000, waived for cases of hardship.

Any costs above the grant maximum would be met by the applicant.

The criteria include the owner of a home that has been registered with council tax as an empty for a minimum of 12 months, grant work must result in energy efficiency improvement and five year post grant conditions are applied.

Councillor Anna Williams-Price said: “The impact of empty homes on our communities cannot be understated.”

She added: “I’m keen to ensure that Merthyr Tydfil residents have access to this funding in line with residents in other areas of Wales.”

She said that with the council tax premiums for empty homes it will bring them towards a well rounded approach to bringing these houses back into use.

Councillor Darren Roberts said he is thrilled that the funding has been made available to the council to deliver the scheme and he knows it’s going to benefit quite a lot of residents but he did raise concern with the rising cost of materials, rising cost of living and interest rates going up whether residents who are looking to do up their properties will have the means to be able to do it.

Councillor Jamie Scriven said he and members of the public were under the impression that they were already taking part in the scheme so he urged caution about how they talk about these things before taking a vote.