Page last updated at 01:36 GMT, Sunday, 23 November 2008

Empty home numbers 'on increase'

The public are being urged to report homes left empty for long periods

The number of empty homes in England is increasing because of the downturn in the housing market and a sharp rise in repossessions, a charity has warned.

The Empty Homes Agency is urging the public to report homes left vacant for long periods so it can inform councils, which can bring them back into use.

Councils have the power to take empty houses over and rent them out.

There are more than 750,000 empty homes in England, half of which have been unoccupied for more than six months.

In addition to the housing slump, the agency blames the rise on an oversupply of newly-built flats in some city centres and stalled housing regeneration projects.

Social housing

David Ireland, the charity's chief executive, said: "At the very time people need more homes, record numbers are falling empty.

"There are now enough vacant homes in England to house almost two million people, yet far more attention is paid to building new ones.

"Councils have the power to step in and help, but can't do so unless they know where they are and won't unless they know people care."

If everybody who is affected by this growing problem reported just one empty home it would provide a huge impetus

David Ireland, Empty Homes Agency

Under the 2004 Housing Act, councils can take over homes left empty without good reason for more than six months and rent them out for social housing.

The agency has set up a website where people can report rundown, empty homes.

It will automatically report the property to the local council which can take action and will provide updates until the property is back in use.

Mr Ireland said: "If everybody who is affected by this growing problem reported just one empty home it would provide a huge impetus and send a huge message to government and councils that action is needed now."

Figures from the rest of the UK show there are 78,000 vacant homes in Scotland, 50,000 in Northern Ireland and the same number again in Wales.

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