Jointly-funded EPO to tackle empties in Cherwell and S. Northamptonshire

[S p o n s o r e d s t o r yl]

Cherwell and South Northamptonshire Councils are advertising for a jointly-funded Empty Property Officer who will work 2.5 days in each local authority area. The authorities already share a Chief Executive. However, this is not yet a shared empty homes service, with the post-holder reporting separately to different managers in each authority.

The advert for the £28k+ job was recently circulated to EHN Members with a tight deadline of 24th January for applications to be submitted (see further details below).

The job advert reads:

We are looking for a confident and independent person who can use their skills and experience to get empty homes back into use. You must have a good understanding of empty homes issues and of the legislation and enforcement tools available to deal with them. You will also need a sound knowledge of house-construction and building practice and be experienced in inspecting domestic premises.

You will need to be a confident communicator and negotiator and able to operate with a considerable degree of independence. You must hold a full driving licence and have access to a car insured and available for business use.

If this person sounds like you, if you want to play a key role in our friendly, busy and supportive teams and to use your skills to get much-needed homes back into use, we look forward to hearing from you.

(This new role is being shared between South Northamptonshire Council, based in Towcester, and Cherwell District Council, based in Bodicote near Banbury, and you will split your time between the 2 authorities.)

Whilst the initial contract is for two years, it is understood that the contract is likely to be extended if it produces the expected benefits.

Potential applicants are being invited to contact Tim Mills, Private Sector Housing Manager (CDC) on 01295 221655 or Jo Barrett, Strategic Housing Manager(SNC) on 01327 322369 for an informal chat.

Further details and the application pack are available via the online advertisement at www.cherwell.gov.uk.

Background

The new initiative follows on from an earlier spend-to-save initiative at Cherwell built around New Homes Bonus in 2013. On that occasion it was not possible to recruit a suitably-skilled officer, but a higher grading this time around is expected to produce a better outcome.

The new post is again predicated on attracting New Homes Bonus, with the need for specialist skills of a dedicated empty homes officer becoming apparent through the experience built up by the generic private sector housing team, as described in the following extract from a council report produced in support of the proposal:

Cherwell’s PSHT was instrumental in getting 14 long-term empty homes back into use in 2014-15 (a majority by means of financial assistance in return for nomination-rights) and also instigated the Council’s first empty-property-specific enforcement in the form of an Empty Dwelling Management Order and an enforced-sale case. That action has provided us with new skills and experience but has also demonstrated how time-intensive empty- property enforcement is. The PSHT continues to focus on improvement of housing conditions and delivery of the Council’s statutory duties as well as securing affordable private-rented housing through its grant work. In 2014-15, 111 homes were improved through enforcement action (up from 104 the previous year) but a commensurately larger number of appeals received and of prosecutions required is an inevitable consequence of that increased intervention. Those issues require significant officer input and, despite a desire and commitment to secure the re-use of more empty-homes, that work is being squeezed.

Given the progress made with empty-homes work and the need to maintain public awareness of the unacceptability of allowing perfectly good homes to remain as long-term empties, we judge that it is now necessary to employ an officer dedicated to empty-property work.

Cherwell’s need is for an officer working 2.5 days per week and the New Homes Bonus budget allocated to Regeneration and Housing has the potential to be used to provide the necessary funding. SNC has a similar need and is also able to fund a part-time post. This has provided opportunity to recruit a full-time officer with each authority providing half of the cost. This will not be a shared-post in the formal sense, simply a sharing of a resource and the associated costs, with each authority allocating work for the 50% of the time the officer spends in each district. This arrangement is provided for by the existing Section 113 Agreement between the 2 authorities. The officer’s employment will be with CDC and SNC’s funding contribution can be simply confirmed by memorandum.

CDC will, subject to confirmation, use NHB funding for its half of the total £34,094 annual employment cost or alternatively monies from its HIA Reserve, with SNC also providing 50% (£17,047 each per annum). SNC will fund the post from the following sources:

  • Ear marked reserve “CLG Empty Home Monies (grant received 2010-2011)”
  • New Homes Bonus

(This story was sponsored by Cherwell District Council)

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