Hundreds of homes in South Tyneside have been lying empty for six months or more, figures show.
Housing charity Action on Empty Homes has warned that empty homes reveal the “stark reality” of the country’s “broken” housing market.
In September there were 519 long-term empty homes in the area – homes that campaigners say could be brought back into use to help families in need of social housing.
That means one in three of the vacant properties in the area had been sitting empty for six months or more.
In total, 1,423 properties were found by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to be “unoccupied and substantially unfurnished”.
The number of long-term empty homes has fallen significantly since 2017, when there were 984 such properties – a 47% decrease.
Next year local authorities will have the power to double council tax on homes left empty for two years or more – a premium currently capped at 50%.
In South Tyneside the council charged a premium on 180 longer-term empty homes.
A spokesman for South Tyneside Council said: “Currently, less than 1% of council-owned stock is empty, with the majority of those properties undergoing repairs so they can be let.
“We market and advertise accommodation via Tyne and Wear Homes, which is a partnership between South Tyneside, North Tyneside, Newcastle, Gateshead Councils and all social housing providers in the area. Homes are marketed online and in various locations across the sub-region. We also carry out some targeted marketing for difficult to let homes.
“The borough’s independent housing company, South Tyneside Housing Ventures Trust, has bought 45 long-term empty private properties and brought them back into use for affordable rent. A further three properties are currently being purchased. Homes England have also approved a bid for South Tyneside Housing Ventures Trust to pursue a further 10 properties under the same scheme.
“Where possible we will work with private owners to encourage them to restore properties so they can be occupied, but there are occasions when this does not prove possible and we have to take action such as the use of Empty Dwelling Management Orders.
“Long-term empty homes can blight communities. There are many benefits of bringing them back into use.
“Not only does it promote regeneration and increase the range of available properties to rent, it also can reduce vandalism and anti-social behaviour.”
Action on Empty Homes campaigns to bring more empty properties back into use for people in need of housing.
It believes that official figures underestimate the true scale of the problem.
Government statistics do not include derelict properties that could be refurbished, or second homes that are rarely occupied.
The vast majority of the long-term empty properties were low-value houses in the bottom two council tax bands, which made up 87% of the total.
Action on Empty Homes campaign manager Chris Bailey said that many neighbourhoods at the lower end of the housing market are “blighted by empty homes and under-investment”.
He said: “Empty homes are a canary in the coalmine telling us the stark reality of our broken housing market. The time to fix that is now.
“Across England more than a million families are on social housing waiting list, and tens of thousands are in often unsuitable temporary accommodation.
“Every empty home is a wasted opportunity to make a family’s life better, and at a time of national housing crisis this is more critical than ever.
“The Government needs to invest money in getting these homes back into use, particularly in lower value markets, in order to meet the high level of housing need in those communities.”
Across England, 228,000 properties had been unoccupied for more than six months, up from 217,000 last year.
The number of homes unoccupied for more than two years also rose, from 61,000 in 2017 to 62,000 this year.
Polly Neate, chief executive of homelessness charity Shelter, said: “Looking at the figures today, it’s exasperating to see that the number of empty properties has increased at a time when there are so many families without a safe and secure place to call home.”
But she said that the Government should prioritise building more social housing first.
“Some of these homes will be empty for good reason, and others are in the wrong place to offer any kind of practical solution for those in desperate need of a home,” she said.
A spokesperson from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “Local authorities have a range of powers at their disposal to tackle long-term empty homes, and we expect them to use them.”