Improvement Notices, access and works in default on empty properties


This question follows on from a question asked last year by a colleague in the same section of this forum.

I wonder what your experiences are in carrying out works in default for non compliance of an IMP notice on an empty property where there is a non-compliant owner who refuses access or where the owner has simply abandoned the property and you cannot trace them.

Our legal team have agreed with the below which makes it problematic to carry out works in default. In contrast, I have heard of empty homes officers who have carried out works by allowing themselves in with the keys they changed at executing the warrant stage

For example:

I have served an s239 power of entry to inspect an empty property. No access

Go to court, obtain a warrant under s240 for the purposes of survey or examination in order to carry out an inspection under section 4(1) of the Act

Execute warrant, change locks and carry out HHSRS inspection and eventually serve Improvement notice.

Notice expires and serve a s239 to check compliance. No access (although I have a set of keys I do not enter the property)

Go to court, obtain a warrant under s240 for the purposes of survey of premises which are (within the meaning of Part 1 of the Act) specified premises in relation to an improvement notice or prohibition order

Inspect property and confirm no works have been done and notice not complied with.

Serve s31, schedule 3, part 2 Power to take action without agreement notice but again owner does not provide access (again I could use the keys but I do not enter the property)

Move to s35 power of court to order occupier or owner to allow action to be taken on premises. This I have been advised does not act as a warrant allowing me access but requires the owner to provide us access. However, we have a non-compliant owner so cannot get access to do the works. You can prosecute the owner and there is a fine per day for every day the failure continues but have been told this is not registered against the property. As such no works in default have been carried out and no large debt been created.

I understand there are other powers, legislation and the like but what do people think and have they come across similar concerns and ways of doing things specific to IMP notices? Or is my legal team being overly cautious?



Housing Improvement Notices

Hi Andrew,
We have successfully carried out WID from an Improvement Notice, with an absent owner.  Initially we obtained the warrant under s240, which enabled us to gain entry and resecure with a new key.  (Now in our possession.)
After serving the IN and it not being adhered to we carried out the work in default.  We did not get any other warrant eg for inspection to check the IN had been carried out, as the owner had not obstructed our entry (by being absent and non communicative).  Also the initial warrant is open ended, without a date, and can be used for the length of time needed to fulfil its obligations, so provided you have worded the information etc correctly you can re enter to carry out further inspection at any time, with the original warrant.
Schedule 3 allows for you to carry out the work without agreement.  You only have to give notice of doing so.  Unless the owner physically turns up on the day then I would say they are not obstructing you.  There is no warrant provision for carrying out the work, but if they turn up and obstruct you then you can obtain a court order that requires them to allow you access, s35.  You have not come this far yet!  I do not know what would happen if they still prevented you, other than the fine.
The way I see it, if you have advised them you are turning up to do the work, and they have not objected, then they are compliant?  Particularly if they are already aware that you have a key for access.
In our case the works were executed, an Invoice was raised for expenses etc. and the owner was subsequently pursuaded into selling at auction to repay the debt, which with our assistance has just taken place.  Satisfaction all round.
It was our intention to proceed with Enforced Sale if he had not been so cooperative with the agreed sale, however it did not come to that.
Hope this helps

Sarah Williams

Public Protection Officer, Ceredigion County Council

Thanks Sarah, your comments were helpful.
Would you be willing to let me have a look at your initial warrant/ information template. Just want to see how its open ended, without a date, and can be used for the length of time needed to fulfil its obligations.