Empty Homes Network

National Empty Homes Conference,
May 29th 2012, Birmingham

29 May 2012 10:00
Event Description: 

The Draft Programme for this essential event  has now been published - and we've kept costs even lower than last year, with big discounts for full Members of the Empty Homes Network.  See the attached Booking Form for further details.

We're pleased to announce that Andrew Stunell MP will be speaking and has offered to address questions submitted by our practitioners (you can register your questions here).

Others speakers include representatives from key organisations such as :

  • Homes and Communities Agency
  • Empty Homes
  • self-help-housing.org (Community Grants Programme)

We have practice sessions lined up on

  • councl tax
  • good service of notices
  • EDMOs
  • Empty Homes Strategies

We  expect to see new partnership schemes being presented by

  • GraftonLtd with Dave Stott (tracing agents and enforced sales)
  • Dee Rentals (new leasing options)
  • House Doctor (new options for owners)
  • Paul Palmer and Get Wise Gruoup leasing/sjupportedl housing options)

And of course, we will have our Empty Homes Practitioner of the Year Award

We have booked our conference venue at Maple House, Birmingham.  The venue provider is the same as for our joint London Conference in 2011. You can proceed with confidence that this is indeed  the date of the Empty Homes National Conference.

With budget cuts and ever-higher travel costs, we know that keeping the cost of attending as low as possible will be a big consideration.  The costs of delegate places will be comparable with previous years, as low as £115 for full members of the Empty Homes Network and with special options for small organisations.

You can minimise your travel costs by, for example coming the night before. Travelodge rooms in central Birmingham are currently available for 28th May (ie the night before the Conference) at £33 per night (as at 11th May).  (We have no commercial relationship with Travelodge).

To book your place, simply download the booking form, complete and return to events@ehnetwork.org.uk

Contact details: 

Enquiries can be sent to events@ehnetwork.org.uk

Big discount for EHN Full Members on enforcement trainng day

Lavender & Wilson logo

Big discounts are available for EHN Full Members attending the Enforcement Options training day run by Andrew Lavender in St. Albans on the 29th April.

Whilst the normal price is £145 plus VAT, our Full Members can attend for just £110 plus VAT. This follows in the footsteps of Chris Skinner, whose CPO course last year also offered substantial discounts to our Full Members. 

Numbers are limited on the St. Albans course so if you want to attend you'll need to contact Andrew soon if you haven't already done so.  For full details see the event listing.

Empty Homes Awards 2014 submissions - deadline 5th May

Nick Hilton and Zainul Pirmohamed

Empty Homes Awards 2014 open for entries

Every year we present awards to recognise excellence in empty homes work at our Annual Conference at a ceremony sponsored by Grafton UK Ltd.

This year, we’re pleased to announce the opportunity to win two new awards, one for partnerships between local authorities and community groups, the other for partnerships between local authorities and housing associations.

We'd love to get your submissions for these awards - by Monday 5th May please.  Submissions should be clear and to the point and no more than two sides of A4 or the equivalent in an email, per award.

The four awards are as follows.

Empty Homes Practitioner of the Year Award 2014

Sponsored for a fourth 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!


Most Innovative Intervention Award 2014

Sponsored by Empty Property Solutions Ltd.

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

This new award is intended to recognise creative and original interventions that resulted in a problem long term empty property being returned to use.

Let us know how you made it happen. And we'll hope to feature your intervention in a new Case Studies section on the website.


Best LA/Community Housing Organisation Partnership Award 2014

Sponsored by self-help-housing.org and Habitat for Humanity Homes


Recent research by David Mullins and Halima Sacranie*  highlights the importance of partnership for organisations 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). 

Jon Fitzmaurice, OBE, Director of self-help-housing.org and Gareth Hepworth, CEO of Habitat for Humanity have said: “We are very pleased to be able to support this award, highlighting the excellent work being done jointly by councils and community-based housing organisations.


LA/Housing Association Partnership of the Year Award 2014

Sponsored byLondon Borough of Barking and Dagenham

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 has helped rebuild a culture of joint working.  London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, as a local authority with a strong commitment to bringing empty homes work back into use, is keen to see best practice documented and recognised.

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.


Judging Panel

The Empty Homes Awards will be judged by a panel chaired by Matt Smith (Chair of the Empty Homes Network and Empty Homes Officer at Birmingham City Council), Andrew Lavender of Housing Training and Law Consultancy Ltd, Jon Fitzmaurice, OBE of self-help-housing.org and, a representative of the sponsoring organisation for each award.  In the event of a tie, Matt Smith 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 Conference attendance to the winners – but you’ll automatically qualify for the applicable discounted “additional delegate” rate.

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)

The Empty Homes Conference 2014 is sponsored by Ad Hoc Property Management Ltd.

Community Led Project Support Fund can help community groups get planning permission

The criteria applicable to the Community Led Project Support Fund have been tweaked so that community groups can access the money to get "project support" for conversion projects.

The £14million fund is operated by the HCA outside London and the GLA inside London (see HCA link here).  Funding is available until 31 March 2015 or until the funding is fully committed whichever occurs first.  

Originally tied to the Community Right to Build (and thus new-build, by definition), there is now a separate "Planning Application Route" that offers revenue funding for the professional input and fees that might be incurred where a community group project needs to secure planning permsision.  This could include conversion type projects, or such physical changes to a dwelling that planning permission would be required. 

The application form says:

It [the funding] can be used to establish the group, work up detailed plans, get design advice, consult and get your message out to your community.

The bidding guidance goes on to say:

Although the funding is provided to support community groups in developing their proposals and therefore it is not expected that groups will have fully worked up schemes before applying, they should have reached a stage where they can demonstrate that their proposals are deliverable.

Support and advice in the preparation of bids to the fund  is available through Locality.,

New research highlights success of Community Grants Programme

New research indicates the range of positive impacts delivered by the government’s £50million Empty Homes Community Grants Programme and the diversity of organisations that have benefited from it.  The evaluation report, authored by David Mullins and Halima Socranie of Housing and Communities Research Group, University of Birmingham, was  launched on Tuesday at a meeting attended by over 60 representatives from a wide range of organisations including DCLG and the HCA.

Baseline Report

The report focuses on 6 case studies in the Midlands.  It is intended to be one of 3 similar “baseline reports” each focusing on different housing markets.  As a baseline report, it captures the early experiences of the participating community organisations. At the launch itself, some of those organisations provided brief outlines of their projects.  No one who attended could fail to have been impressed by the conviction of the speakers or that their determination to succeed was producing significant outcomes.   The research report sketches the range of benefits for individuals and communities – training, employment, resettlement, housing, improvements to local environments, significant upgrades to energy efficiency, the “mended window” syndrome lifting appeal of entire streets…the list goes on.


Notwithstanding the native strengths of the community groups involved, the importance of partnership was also emphasised both at the launch meeting and in the report itself, which noted  

Partners again emerged as the key success ingredient from which all others can flow. It is clear that without the combination of support provided by self-help-housing.org and some local authorities take up of the EHCGP would have been substantially lower and delivery less effective.

The role of local authorities as enablers was exemplified by Birmingham City Council, where officers seem to have gone out of their way to draw the attention of local organisations to the opportunities provided by the funding, catalysing the submission of bids.  This support was repaid by the ability of the community groups to bring landlords on board in a way that (according to the council rep at the launch meeting) the council itself would have found difficult.  The outcome was not just empty homes brought back into use but housing and support for vulnerable households. 

The capacity for community organisations to deliver local authority objectives thus deserves to be emphasised. But councils’ ability to benefit by developing the necessarily partnerships seems to depend heavily on the presence of champions within the local  authority, whether officers or members: a simple message from the programme is just that we need  more champions in the governmental and housing association world. (The presence of champions within the community organisations can generally be assumed – otherwise they would not exist in the first place.)

Evidence base

In the wake of the much-criticised Housing Market Renewal programme, we are advised to scrutinise the evidence provided in research reports about regeneration much more closely than we might hitherto have done. The supposedly research-backed evidence base for the HMR programme has been subject to significant challenge, with opponents claiming that research was influenced by ruling ideologies (“neo-liberalism” in academic parlance) and market factors that directly affected the research institutions themselves, well-captured in the title of a book by Chris Allen (himself an academic) called The Knowledge Business*.  Without taking a position on that particular debate, it does remind us of the need to retain our critical faculties when reviewing research outputs.

Looking at the evidence presented here, the methodology described in the report was as follows:

A database of organisations was developed and updated, regional meetings were observed, six case studies were undertaken, each involving up to 5 semi-structured and qualitative interviews with key individuals. 

Additionally, “a database was developed to map the growth of the sector and delivery of the programme in the Midlands”.

With no quantitative data presented, we have to trust the professional integrity of the researchers in their selection of quotations from participants and interpretation of the results. But in any case, people with a passing acquaintance with the  CGP projects will recognise the picture painted, which confirms numerous anecdotal reports received by EHN.   And the researchers themselves are clear that more in-depth research is needed to provide a fuller evidence base with a stronger quantitative element.   They have done a solid job with limited resources and relying on significant pro bono input several different directions.

The only slight cavil is that it would have been useful if the profiling of the  community organisations  in the report had incuded aspects (which are presumably retrievable from the “database”)  such as their asset bases, revenue streams and numbers of FTE  employees.   Where this information came to light in the presentations  at the launch meeting it gave us a much more concrete sense of the organisation involved.

And what a written report cannot easily convey – which is not its fault – is just how inspiring these projects can be. 

What next for the research programme?

The research was funded by the Building and Social Housing Foundation, which has now established a strong track record in funding research into community-led empty homes initiatives: the new report follows in the wake of  reports into self-help housing and the widely-quoted New Tricks with Old  Bricks.  The earlier report into self-help housing was  an essential platform without which the  entire CGP funding stream would not have happened.  This underlines the importance of research. EHN has long been arguing for a proper evidence base to inform government funding decisions, a point we emphasised at the beginning of the programme in our letter to Andrew Stunell.

So what happens going forwards?  The baseline research in the other 3 areas has been started on the back of volunteer work: its completion is not funded, never mind the full research project that would be needed to evaluate the programme properly.  It is essential that this research is now funded and we trust that DCLG will ensure that this happens.


Finally, the 6 recommendations were as  follows:

1.Set more realistic timescales and provide greater flexibility to enable new non-registered housing providers to take part in programmes such as EHCGP.

2. Join up support and capacity building at local and regional levels to maximise impact and harness support from larger registered providers.

(2a) There is also scope for more coordinated support and to explore ‘buddying’ type partnership models to harness registered housing association’s expertise and experience.

3. Undertake a social audit of the wider impact of the projects through a low burden self-assessment framework to inform future investment, transfer learning and improve practice.

4. Promote Organisational sustainability for community-led groups through continued opportunities to engage in housing and where possible to grow their asset base through asset transfers and purchases.

5. Overcome barriers to accessing properties

6. Stimulate continued bold and innovative thinking by community-led groups.

Of these, Recommendation 2a seems to place a questionable degree of faith in housing associations, given their wholesale withdrawal from this type of work.  Undoubtedly individual associations can (and have been) very helpful but the research doesn’t provide much evidence to back up the value of recommendation 2a as a general approach to garnering assistance: community organisations could spend a demoralising time banging on closed doors.  

What would seem more productive would be to build a resource around the projects themselves now that they have built up significant experience and expertise. 

The task of developing such a resource would seem to fit within the remit of self-help-housing.org, the central role of which (and of its director Jon Fitzmaurice) is highlighted in the report.  Self-help-housing.org needs its enabling role to be appreciated and its future secured.

As for Recommendation 6, its heart is no doubt in the right place but it misses the real need.  “Bold and innovative thinking” will always emerge from  grass-roots organisations: that’s what they do.  What we need to stimulate is not more innovation on the part of community groups (welcome though that might be) but innovation on the part of policy-makers and funders whether nationally or locally to recognise the success of the diverse approaches on offer and do something positive, systematically, strategically, structurally, to build on the successes achieved.  If Big Society means anything, it means supporting groups like these.  



*The Knowledge Business: The Commodification of Urban and Housing Research, Chris Allen and Bob Imrie (Eds.)(Ashgate, 2010).  

See also Rethinking the Role of Markets in Urban Renewal: The Housing Market Renewal Initiative in England, David Webb (Housing, Theory and Society,Vol. 27, No. 4, 313–331, 2010. The abstract notes:

The focus here is not on the interests of capital or the material outcomes of urban renewal. Instead,attention is brought to a decision made by housing academics to view neighbourhoods as a market. This has led to the production of a number of complementary narratives. Together, these now form a paradigm which upholds a powerful network of institutional and economic actors and oppresses opposition. This article calls for a greater awareness of the partiality of expert “knowledge”, as well as for the diversification of critical urban perspectives.

Bournemouth to beef up empty homes work with new Empty Homes Officer

Bournemouth city council

Bournemouth Borough Council are upping their efforts to deal with empty homes with the appointment of a full-time Empty Homes Officer.

The existing Empty Homes Strategy covered the years 2009-2012 and relied on a partnership with Bournemouth's four development partners for funding. That funding dried up and there has been no empty homes officer in post since 2011. 

Nicky Thomas, Housing Manager (Private Sector Housing and Adaptations) said:

We’re really in need of some proactive work, particularly to take more robust action with the worst properties.  Following a very detailed business case to the members, which noted the advantages for maximising New Homes Bonus,  we've secured funding for an initial three year contract for a full time post to review and develop the options we have for empty home owners,  to follow the example of good practice in other authorities, to take more robust enforcement action, including CPOs, and to work with our legal team to take enforced sale action and son on..

We have a good working relationship with our CT people and the aim is to contact owners proactively with info about options, follwoing this up with hand holding, encouragement, and enforcement only where necessary.  This is the dream: I want to make it the reality. Once we have someone in post they’ll be seeking lots of advice!

The job advertisement is published on our site here.

Grafton UK Ltd.

Click image to visit www.graftonemptyhomes.com

Bournemouth Empty Homes Officer Advert

Click image to see advert page

Enforcement Options - training day with Andrew Lavender, 29th April

29 Apr 2014
Event Description: 

Andrew Lavender is offering an Enforcement Options course in St. Albans on Tuesday 29th April 2014.

Numbers are limited so book early.


Session 1:

  • Section 215 Town and Country Planning Act 1990
  • Section 79 Building Act 1984

Session 2:  

  • Other Enforcement options   
  • Building Act 1984 (dangerous Structures)
  • Housing Act 2004 (Improvement Notices / EDMO)
  • Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1984 / Public Health Act
  • Compulsory Purchase Orders

Case Studies Section - which enforcement options would you choose?


Lunch is not provided but the is a cafeteria on site

Session 3:     

  • Enforced Sales Procedure
  • Tracing owners
  • Service of notices

Session 4:

  • Softer options or Local Authoritiy's difficult cases


Full EHN Members: £110 plus VAT

Associate or non-Members: £145 plus VAT


Contact details: 

If you are interested, please contact Andrew Lavender on 07867987550 or by email andrew.lavender@htlc.co.uk

Conference News - 4 Empty Homes Awards for 2014

Conference collage

We're very pleased to announce that there will now be four separate awards to be presented at the Empty Homes Conference 2014 (sponsored again this year by property guardian experts  Ad Hoc Ltd.)

We'll give you further details about each of the awards over the next week or so, to give you plenty of time to work up your submissions. In the meantime, here are some details to whet appetites and get the wheels of creativity turning.

Firstly, we are very grateful that the Awards Ceremony is again sponsored by Grafton UK Ltd. Grafton have become well-known in the empty homes practitioner world for their services around tracing hard-to-find owners; this is now complemented by a more comprehensive service to assist in complex projects.

Grafron are also, for a third year year,  sponsoring the Empty Homes Network Practitioner of the Year Award 2014 - awarded to an individual full member of the Empty Homes Network who has demonstrated outstanding qualities.

Carson Millican, Director of Empty Property Solutions Ltd., is again sponsoring the Most Innovative Intervention of the Year award for 2013-14,  inviting case studies that highlight creativity and innovation in applied to individual cases. 

There are two new awards this year.

Firstly, Habitat for Humanity and self-help-housing.org are jointly sponsoring the Best LA/Community Group Partnership Award to help highlight excellence in joint working between local authorities and community groups, self-help-housing organisations etc.

Finally, we are pleased to welcome the brand new  LA/Housing Association Partnership of the Year Award, a new award sponsored by London Borough of Barking and Dagenham.

Thanks to Ad Hoc Property Management Ltd. for supporting the empty homes practitioner community through sole sponsorship of the Empty Homes Conference 2014.