Exclusive: Grim wait for homes ...but over 90,000 are left empty

NEARLY 100,000 houses are sitting empty in Yorkshire and hundreds of family-sized council homes have only one person living in them despite thousands of families spending years on waiting lists for housing.

New figures revealed today show there are 92,800 homes empty in the region – more than a third of which have not been occupied for at least six months – despite the waiting list for council or housing association homes queue for housing in the region topping 250,000.

And an investigation by the Yorkshire Post has revealed more than 400 four-bedroom council homes in the region are occupied by just one person. Sheffield has 107 four-bedroom council homes with just one occupant while Rotherham has 110, Kirklees 60, Barnsley 54 and Hull 101.

Four five-bed houses were found to have just one occupant, according to information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Data from a survey in the East Riding suggested there may be 66 homes with three empty bedrooms.

The revelation will infuriate many families who have spent months on waiting lists for social housing or are forced to live in houses which are far smaller than they really require. After a decade of soaring demand for council and housing association properties, there are currently 258,695 families on waiting lists in Yorkshire.

It will also be seized on by Ministers who are considering ending the regime of a "council house for life" that would make it easier for tenants to be moved and match suitable properties with tenants.

In an effort to tackle empty homes, the Government is to offer councils incentives to bring them back into use. Ministers will offer to match council tax raised on empty homes brought back into use, earning local authorities in the region an average 1,046 for every home reoccupied.

The move comes amid growing pressure on the Government to act over the issue which the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats had pledged to tackle in the coalition agreement.

A Government source said: "Long-term empty properties easily fall into disrepair, and attract the squatters, vandalism and anti-social behaviour that bring down our local neighbourhoods. With as many as 300,000 long-term empty properties across the UK this precious resource is being squandered. Empty properties should instead be treated as an asset and brought back into use for those families that need somewhere to live."

New Government figures revealed for the first time today show that 92,800 homes in the Yorkshire and Humber region are currently empty, with 38,200 of them unoccupied for at least six months.

The most recent statistics broken down by council showed there were 14,828 empty properties in Leeds alone, 13,720 in Bradford, 8,188 in Sheffield and 6,760 in Hull.

As well as having the potential to blight neighbourhoods, there are worries that the properties are being wasted when they could be used to house those waiting for a suitable home.

In opposition, the Lib Dems promised grants to renovate properties if they were to become part of the social housing stock, and cheap loans if they were to be used privately.

The plan was heralded for making it easier for families to find a home, helping owners turn a burden into an asset and reducing controversial development in the countryside, but the pledge was downgraded in the coalition agreement which said only: "We will explore a range of measures to bring empty homes into use."

As part of the Spending Review the Government pledged 100m for housing associations towards bringing properties back into use, and local authorities will be able to bid for money from the 1.4bn Regional Growth Fund for projects related to housing growth.

But Ministers will also unveil the council tax incentive next year. It will work in line with the New Homes Bonus, through which the Government will match council tax on every new home built in an effort to encourage areas to build more homes.

Councils will be free to spend the extra money as they wish and the Government hopes the incentive will encourage communities to help identify empty homes so they can be occupied again.

David Ireland, chief executive of the Empty Homes charity, said: "These very welcome proposals would allow local authorities to see how empty property can be turned into new homes more clearly and give them the incentive to act."