Empty Homes Network

Life in the Lakes - Homesmatch reaches the parts other empty homes officers can't always reach!

Life in the Lakes – Homesmatch reaches the parts other empty homes officers can’t always reach!

April 2016

I’ve just come into work – it’s Wednesday morning - and the first email I read was from Charlie Stewart at Homesmatch.   A week or so ago, I passed on details for Homesmatch to an owner who is tearing his hair out about his empty property.  It’s not for sale yet because there are some other issues which need to be sorted out first.  I hadn’t been able to do much for the owner which was very frustrating. 

Cue ….. Homesmatch.  The owner contacted them and last week Charlie and Cath viewed the property.  They’re now in the process of completing the report following the visit and will discuss this with the owner’s representative this week.  They’re hoping to be able to support the owner and sell the property.   Fingers crossed!

I’ve also passed on the Homesmatch details to another empty home owner.  Like many of our empty homes this property has been for sale for well over a year and is not selling, despite a reduced price.  The owner had lived there with her husband, then when he passed away  she continued to live there.  But because she is in her seventies she was finding the property and its garden too big to manage.  She put it up for sale and moved into a smaller home.  However while the property has been for sale she’s struggled to pay the council tax and has visited regularly to keep the house and gardens tidy.  It’s now become far too much for her and she’s desperate to sell.

Cue….. Homesmatch.  I sent the owner various information leaflets (she didn’t have access to the internet) on selling an empty home, plus details and a time-limited offer (at a reduced-price) from a prospective builder and also Homesmatch details.  The owner apparently contacted Charlie last week.  He realised she was feeling weighed down by not being able to sell her property.  Charlie and Cath are going to view the property and meet the estate agent this week.  Again, fingers crossed!

My conclusion at the moment is that signposting owners to Homesmatch as an option for empty home owners to consider may be the key to unlocking some of these very long-term empty homes.  Ones which I would really like to help bring back into use, but which I just don’t have the ‘tools’ for.

Best wishes from the Lakes,

Lynne Leach, Empty Homes Officer, South Lakeland District Council

Property Rescue empty homes infographics

Deadline for Empty Homes Awards submissions - 1st May

1 May 2016 23:59
2 May 2016 00:00
Event Description: 

Deadline for submissions for the Empty Homes Awards 2016 - midnight, Sunday 1st May.

Contact details: 



£1.3million grants for empty homes projects to address youth homelessness

Property industry charity Landaid has awarded £1.3million in grants to projects to provide housing for young homeless people by bringing empty homes back into use.

There were 57 applications for the available grant, and awards were made to 15 projects, including World Habitat Award winners Canopy. Canopy's £80,000 grant will enable them to refurbish three properties and provide housing for six young homeless people.

Projects set to benefit from the funding are scattered across the country, in Basingstoke, Bristol, Brixham, Fencehouses, Grimsby, Hull, Isle of Wight, Leeds, Lincoln, London, Middlesbrough, North Shields, Peterborough, Rotherham and Wolverhampton.

For further details of the award announcement see the story on the Landaid website.

Empty Homes Awards 2016 - send us your submissions

Dave Stott of Grafton (left) presents award to Benard Goren

Every year, at our Annual Conference, we present awards to recognise excellence in empty homes work.  The Awards Ceremony is sponsored by Grafton UK Ltd.   again this year. [Picture: Dave Stott of Grafton presents Practitioner of the Year Award 2015 to Benard Goren of Hull City Council].

The closing date for submissions for these awards is midnight, Sunday, 1st May (in case you were stuck for things to do on a Bank Holiday weekend!)   Submissions should be clear and to the point and no more than two sides of A4, maximum 1200 words, or the equivalent in an email, per award. You can send us more if you want - e.g. before and after pictures - but in evaluating the awards we will only look at the first 1200 words of the first two pages (which should therefore be self-contained).

There are five awards this year, as follows.

Empty Homes Practitioner of the Year 2016

Sponsored for a sixth year by Grafton UK Ltd.

Please tell us why the nominated person deserves the award.  We are interested in any of the following:

  • innovation
  • dedication
  • organisation
  • .... and/or any other quality or achievement that you think deserves recognition.

Don't be embarrassed to nominate yourself.  Empty Homes Practitioners often work on their own and don't have colleagues that know how good they are!

Innovation Award

Sponsored by Carson Millican, trading as Empty Property Solutions Ltd.

Empty property practitioners excel at providing a range of solutions to the problem of wasted homes.

This award has been retitled to cover individual interventions or entire schemes.  We're looking for creative and original approaches, systems, interventions or whatever that have demonstrated their value in helping bring empty homes back into use.

Let us know how you made it happen. Suitable submissions will be featured in the Practice section of our website.

Best Local Authority/Community Housing Organisation Partnership

Sponsored this year by Grafton UK Ltd.

Research by David Mullins and Halima Sacranie*  has highlighted the importance of partnership for organisations that were funded through CLG’s Community Grants Programme.  The contribution made by partnerships between community based housing organisations and local authorities is particularly evident in the research report. We welcome submissions from either or both that demonstrate one or more of the following

  • how a local authorities and community housing organisations have helped one another achieve their objectives
  • excellence in the partnership framework employed by the partners

If the submission is from one particular organisation, we’ll look to get evidence that the submission is supported by the other partner(s). 

Best Local Authority/Housing Association Partnership

Sponsored this year by Grafton UK Ltd.

Partnerships between local authorities and housing associations can also play a vital part in bringing empty homes back into use.   Since the 1990s, such partnerships have often declined or disappeared, but the HCA’s empty homes funding programme did go some way to helping rebuild a culture of joint working.

We welcome submissions that

  • highlight the results achieved  by local authorities and housing associations working together either strategically or or a specific programme
  • document the partnership mechanisms that have produced those results.

Best Use of Media Award

New this year, thanks to sponsorship from Grafton UK Ltd.

Effective use of the media can make a huge difference to our work, highlighting the value of what we do both to the communities we serve and to those who fund or employ us. It can also help build awareness of the help available to those who need it most i.e. empty property owners and/or to the costs and risks of keeping a property empty.

By sponsoring this new award, Grafton want to build recognition of this important strand of empty homes work. We'd like to see submissions that cover any of the following:

  • effective use of social media
  • developing high quality media materials
  • new channels for outreach
  • targeted campaigns
  • building support amongst funders and employers
  • .... or anything else that you can think of that involves communication and media.

Judging Panel

The Empty Homes Awards will be judged by a panel chaired by Nick Pritchard-Gordon (Chair of the Empty Homes Network and Empty Homes Officer at Reading Borough Council), Andrew Lavender of Housing Training and Law Consultancy Ltd, Jon Fitzmaurice, OBE, Director of self-help-housing.org, and a representative of the sponsoring organisation for each award.  In the event of a tie, Nick Pritchard-Gordon will have a casting vote.

Please note: the Practitioner of the Year award is only available to Full Members of the Empty Homes Network (Corporate, Collective or Individual).

Sorry but we can’t offer free or discounted Conference attendance fees to the winners.  However, there will be a photo opportunity during the Conference and we publish and make available pictures of winners receiving their awards.  The winning submissions are also featured in news stories after the event.

Please send your nominations to events@ehnetwork.org.uk

*(Evaluation of the Empty Homes Community Grants Programme (EHCGP) - Midlands region, Baseline Case Studies Report: Housing and Communities Research Group, University of Birmingham, April 2014)

Thanks also to our main Conference sponsor Ad Hoc Property Management Ltd.

Homesmatch to help sponsor May 24th Conference

Preston-based Homesmatch has become a Gold Supporter to help promote the Empty Homes Conference taking place in Birmingham on 24th May 2016.

Led by experienced property professional Cathy Whelan, Homesmatch has developed an innovative approach to matching buyers and sellers and is now looking to build stronger links with local authorities by providing another tool in the empty homes toolbox.  A key feature of its service for sellers is the option for Homesmatch to invest in renovating a home, thus addressing one of the key obstacles to sale for some properties.

Cathy Whelan (pictured left) and Charlie Stewart of Homesmatch will be running a session at the Conference to explain their services in more detail.

Meanwhile, thanks to their Gold Supporter sponsorship we’ve been able to boost the advertising of the Conference through Chartered Institute of Housing channels, including both email newsletters and adverts in the printed copies Environmental Health News (EHNews).


Most Innovative Intervention Award 2015

The final award for 2015 that remains to be highlighted before we invite submissions for the 2016 Awards is the Most Innovative Intervention Award, sponsored by Carson Millican, trading as Empty Property Solutions Ltd.  (and contactable by email if you'd like to find out more).

Carson is a long-standing member of the EHN Executive and is currently our representative for Northern Ireland, where he originaly hails from.  His expertise has been bought in by a number of London boroughs over the years. He worked for the East London Renewal Partnership and currently provides services to the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham.

Carson was keen for the Empty Homes Network to promote innovation and saw sponsoring this award as the best way to do so.  The Award has been aimed at interventions to bring individual properties back into use.

Leeds Empties - outright winners

There was a lot of competition for this award in 2015, but the overall winners were Leeds Empties for their work bringing a long-term empty home back into use. The Winners' Award was presented by Nick Pritchard-Gordon, Chair of the Empty Homes Network (standing left in the picture), to Gill Coupland and Jo Widdop, the two Empty Homes Doctors from Leeds Empties (standing second left and second right respectively). Award sponsor Carson Millican is standing to the right in the picture.

Leeds Empties Submission

Leeds Empties is a social enterprise which works alongside Leeds City Council’s Empty Homes Team to bring empty homes back into use in Leeds.  We provide an Empty Homes Doctor service, which offers free, intensive support to owners of empty homes to help them to bring their home back into use.

The Empty Homes Team at Leeds City Council got in touch with us in May 2014 about a long-term empty property in inner-city Leeds.  They had been in touch with the owners but were making little progress – and thought we may be able to help.

We got in touch with the owners with an offer to help.  The three bedroom terraced house had been empty seven years.  It was owned by an older couple, who moved out of the house when they split up seven years ago.

When we offered to meet them at the property, Mr G explained that he hadn’t visited the house for over two years – and wasn’t sure where the keys were for the security shutters which had been placed over the doors and windows.

We did some research and found out who had installed the shutters – and acquired a spare set of keys.  With Mr G’s permission we went to view the property.  It was in a very poor state of repair –  and pigeons had made the attic room their home, having gained access through a hole in the roof.  The Council had recently undertaken works to ensure that the house didn’t cause damage to the houses on either side. 

After our visit we met with Mr G and talked through all options.  He was clear that he wanted to sell – and having spoken with estate agents and auctioneers it was clear that a house in such a poor condition was most likely to sell at auction.

However, we were aware that local social enterprise Latch were keen to buy empty homes in the area, part-funded by Empty Homes Community Grants.  So we approached Latch on behalf of Mr G.  They were very keen on the property, and after undertaking a survey, made an offer to Mr G.  This offer was at the higher end of what the auctioneers had suggested as a likely sale price – and Latch were also in a position to complete the sale quickly – which suited Mr G’s circumstances. 

Once he had decided to sell to Latch, we worked with Mr G to instruct local solicitors Advantage Property Lawyers – who offered discounted conveyancing on the sale.  We also held keys for the property, to arrange access for Latch to complete a survey. 

Neither Mr G nor his ex-partner could find ID – which was required to complete the sale.  We helped them to obtain copies of their Birth Certificates and Marriage Certificate.

Leeds City Council had a charge against the property – for works that they carried out to ensure that the house didn’t cause damage to neighbouring properties.  We liaised with the council to deal with the legal work in relation to this charge – to ensure that it did not delay the sale of the house.  As a result of the sale, Leeds City Council was able to reclaim over £7,000 in charges and interest for work they carried out on the property.

In working with Mr G, it became clear that he did not have a will – so we arranged for him to prepare one – and we also worked with him and his family to sort out Powers of Attorney, in case they are required in the future.

After 7 years empty, the sale was completed within 4 months of Mr G responding to our offer of help.  The house has been refurbished by Latch to high standards of environmental sustainability, with support from a range of funders including Empty Homes Community Grants, and Leeds Community Foundation.  Support from local funder Jimbo’s Fund enabled Latch to offer volunteering opportunities during the refurbishment of the house.

Highlights of the approach

We believe this case is a good example of the innovative approach that we take to bringing empty homes back into use in Leeds:

  • Tailored, responsive service:  We rang Mr G on the day that the Council passed his details to us – and 2 days later – once we’d tracked down a spare set of keys for the security shutters – we visited the property.
  • We explore all options with owners:  our detailed Empty Homes Doctor report outlined a range of options for the owner – including refurbishment, rental, sale through agent and sale through auction.  Our strong links with local empty homes social enterprises meant that we were aware that Latch would be interested in this home.
  • We work with an owner every step of the way until their home is back in use.  We worked closely with Mr G, breaking down a complicated situation into manageable steps, including:
    • finding replacement keys for the security shutters
    • arranging access for estate agents and auctioneers to do valuations
    • liaising with Latch to agree a purchase price
    • negotiating discounted conveyancing
    • liaising with the council to sort out payment of the charge against the property for deferred works – and ensuring it didn’t delay the sale of the house
    • helping to obtain replacement Birth and Marriage Certificates
    • helping to arrange Power of Attorney and preparation of a will. 
  • We act quickly – after seven years empty, the home was sold to Latch within four months of us contacting Mr G.
  • We secure income for the local authority.  Leeds City Council was able to reclaim over £7,000 for works in default on the property – alongside the New Homes Bonus that it can claim as a result of bringing the home back into use.
  • Our intervention frees up Council officer time so that they can work on other empty homes.

Media coverage

We also engaged a local film-maker to produce a film to tell the story of bringing this home back into use.  He has followed the story from Latch taking on the property, through to it being lived in again. 

We also got local media coverage for bringing this home back into use – including

The short film which tells the story of the transformation of this home will be available in early May. 

Highly Commended

The judging panel was keen to recognise another strong contender, namely the Stoke "£1 House" scheme.  This well-known scheme earned a Highly Commended award. Zainul Pirmohamed, who received the award on behalf of Stoke City Council, had already won the Practitioner of the Year Award earlier in the day (see our story here).

In other circumstances, the Stoke scheme might have been the category winner, but the emphasis has always been on individual properties rather than schemes. However, in 2016 that will change: the award has been retitled simply "Innovation Award" and we won't distinguish between schemes and individual interventions.

The Award was presented to Zainul by Nick Pritchard-Gordon (left) and Carson Millican (right).

Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s ‘£1 houses’ project

Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s ‘£1 houses’ project has delivered an innovative solution for bringing a cluster of 33 empty properties back into use. The cost-effective scheme has not only enabled hard-working people on modest salaries to buy homes they would not otherwise be able to afford, it has helped to regenerate a run-down area, added to a sense of community for residents and helped to tackle social issues.

The project involved renovating properties in the Portland Street area of Stoke-on-Trent and selecting suitable buyers to pay a nominal £1 for the finished homes. The new owners also agreed to repay the £30,000 renovation costs through a 10-year low-interest loan, with repayments being invested in bringing more empty homes back into use, ensuring on-going returns on taxpayers’ investment.

A focus on tackling social challenges, alongside the physical regeneration and the up-front investment, makes this project unique. Other authorities have attempted to sell clusters of empty homes for £1, but none have taken the risk of investing in up-front renovation work while also addressing both the physical and social aspects of regeneration. As a result, Stoke-on-Trent’s initiative has sparked considerable interest, not only around the UK, but across Europe and even to Russia and China.

£1 houses - a blueprint for holistic transformation

The project began in 2012 when the number of empty homes in Stoke-on-Trent approached 5,000, prompting a quest for new ways of bringing more properties back into use. It coincided with the council’s project to clear dozens of substandard homes in parts of the city affected by housing blight to make way for new high-quality homes as part of a massive regeneration strategy due to be completed in 2015.

Funding withdrawal in 2010 had resulted in considerable numbers of boarded up homes and none of the anticipated government money to fund demolition or refurbishment. This continued until 2012 when the council secured £1.5million from the Clusters of Empty Homes Fund, which it matched with its own capital funding.

While much of this funding was used as part of a long-term approach working with owners to bring 124 long-term empty properties back into use across the city, the council spotted an opportunity to use the funding in an innovative way to transform 33 properties around Portland Street in one fell swoop.

These empty homes required considerable renovation to make them habitable. However, the potential rewards included the chance to address the high density of privately rented properties, as well as social problems and market failure. The council decided that by shouldering the risk of the up-front investment it would be well placed to select suitable buyers who would become owner-occupiers and support efforts to regenerate the area.

The authority worked with its housing repairs partner, Kier Stoke, to carry out intensive renovation work, which started in December 2013 and was completed in June 2014.

A bright new future - for just £1

With a clear strategic direction to make Stoke-on-Trent a great place to live where residents are able to live independent and healthy lives, the project team devised a set of criteria for applicants to help ensure that the buyers would not only be able to afford to repay the £30,000 loan, but would also actively support the revitalisation of the surrounding community.

The selection process prioritised applicants with strong local connections to the area, who were earning modest salaries that would ordinarily put home ownership beyond their reach. The buyers also signed agreements to live in their £1 homes for at least five years without selling or renting the property.

The council team also worked to build up links between the successful buyers and the existing residents to foster a sense of community spirit from the outset. In addition, the team worked closely with partners, including Staffordshire Police and the council’s Environmental Crime, Housing Standards and Localities teams on a campaign to address stubborn social issues that presented potential barriers to social and housing market renewal. As part of this holistic package, £300,000 was set aside to fund environmental improvements in the area, including new community facilities.

Impact of the scheme

The city council’s empty homes strategy is one of the central tenets of the council’s commitment to making Stoke-on-Trent a great place to live in, and the £1 homes scheme has become one of the most renowned and effective parts of that strategy.

The project has been held up by other local authorities as an example of best practice and the success of the scheme is contributing to attracting further housing funding from government with Stoke-on-Trent recently announced as one of 11 vanguard areas to benefit from the new Right to Build scheme and the biggest single recipient of Right to Buy Social Mobility Fund money.


“Moving into our own home is very exciting and a fantastic opportunity for us. We are finally achieving our goal of getting onto the property ladder – something we never thought we would be able to afford to do.” Matthew Thompson and Kasie Czarna, the first people to move into one of the £1 homes.

“Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s inspirational £1 homes project has proved their commitment to a dynamic restoration of a deeply flawed built environment. The unquestioned success of the promotion has proved beyond doubt that there is an appetite for this kind of exciting project. In tandem with clever and sensitive restoration of parts of Hanley, this is strong evidence that the management of the city council is in touch with best practice and contemporary thinking in urban renewal.” Matthew Rice, author and co-owner of pottery manufacturer Emma Bridgewater.

Kier chosen to help deliver Veterans' Village in Manchester empty homes

Landlords in13% of postcode areas to pay SDLT for first time says Lendinvest

The stats are a bit dodgy as they involve average house prices - and who knows how those relate to the properties actually bought by landlords. Leaving that aside, the survey by Lendinvest indicates that in 14 out of the 105 major postcode areas (e.g. EX, B, NW) the average prices are below £125,000.

Landlords buying in those areas will now be paying the new 3% second homes" Stamp Duty surcharge, which is levied on all homes bought for more than £40,000, even thought the main rate of Stamp Duty will remain 0% if the property is bought for less than £125,000.

Compulsory Purchase consultation - deadline for responses

15 May 2016 23:45
15 May 2016 23:45
Event Description: 

Deadline for responses to the CPO consultation that may result in lower Basic Loss Payments for long-term empty homes.

To access the consultation via our Library, follow this link.

Contact details: 

To discuss EHN's response please contact David Gibbens, Policy Lead, by email in the first instance, at david.gibbens@ehnetwork.org.uk.