Over 2,000 empty Shropshire homes show stark reality of housing crisis
More than 2,000 homes in Shropshire are lying empty in the midst of the housing crisis, new 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 1,654 long-term empty homes in Shropshire, and another 486 in Telford & Wrekin – homes that campaigners say could be brought back into use to help families in need of social housing.
It means half of vacant properties in Shropshire and a third of those in Telford & Wrekin have been sitting unoccupied for six months or more.
In total, 3,388 properties in Shropshire and 1,522 in Telford were found by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to be "unoccupied and substantially unfurnished".
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 majority of the long-term empty properties were low-value houses in the bottom two council tax bands, which made up 57 per cent 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 accomodation.
"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."
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 per cent.
In Shropshire the council charged a premium on 586 longer-term empty homes, while in Telford 132 paid higher tax.