More than a thousand homes in Burnley have been lying empty for six months or more according to new figures, with a leading housing charity claiming they reveal the "stark reality" of the country's "broken" housing market.
In September, there were 1,046 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 56% of the vacant properties in the area had been sitting empty for six months or more.
In total, 1,877 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 since 2017, when there were 1,220 such properties - a 14% decrease.
Action on Empty Homes campaigns to bring more empty properties back into use for people in need of housing, believing that official figures underestimate the true scale of the problem as 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 93% 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," he added. "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."
A Burnley Council spokesman replied: "Improving our neighbourhoods by bringing properties that have been empty for many years back into use is a challenge we're tackling. Burnley is the second most successful council in Lancashire in terms of reducing the number of vacant properties over the last 15 years. In the past decade more than 1,000 vacant properties have been improved.
"We've put added resources into our empty homes programme to help support the work," the comment continued. "Under the programme more than 90 empty properties have been brought back into use over the past two years with at least another 160 expected to follow over the coming two years.
"The charity calls for more homes nationally to be brought back into use but doesn't say where the money will come from. We are doing what we can with limited resources. We would be delighted if the Government gave us more money to put into the programme."
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 also 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 added.
A spokesperson from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government commented: "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%. In Burnley the council charged a premium on 439 longer-term empty homes.