HUNDREDS of houses in Swindon have been empty for six months or more.

In September, there were 489 long-term empty homes in the town, which means that one in three of the vacant properties in the area had been sitting empty for at least six months.

Campaigners suggest these houses could be brought back into use to help families in need of social housing.

Action on Empty Homes campaign manager Chris Bailey said: “Empty homes are a canary in the coalmine telling us the stark reality of our broken housing market.

“Across England, more than a million families are on social housing waiting lists, 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.”

However, there are 31 per cent fewer empty homes in Swindon compared to this time last year, when there were 710 left empty for the same period of time.

In total, 1,476 properties were found by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to be unoccupied and substantially unfurnished in Swindon.

Across England, 228,000 properties had been unoccupied for more than six months, up from 217,000 last year.

A Swindon Borough Council spokesman said: “Bringing empty homes back into use is a major focus for this council.

“We have fewer than 200 long-term empty private properties - these are homes that have been empty for over a year.

“This figure only equates to about 0.2 per cent of the total number of houses in the borough, but we continue to take a proactive approach in bringing these properties back into use for the benefit the property owner and the wider community.

“There are often complex and multiple reasons as to why a property is empty. The most effective way to bring properties back into use is to first contact the owners and work closely with them to bring the properties back into use.

“If it is appropriate, we can use enforcement powers to help us achieve this and the council has used measures such as compulsory purchase orders to buy an empty home, before investing in it to put it back into the housing stock. However, this can be a lengthy process.

“During this year’s Empty Homes Week, which took place in October, we invited owners of empty properties to a free drop-in session to discuss ways to help bring their homes back into use. This is just some of the important work our housing teams do on a daily basis.”

To report an empty property email or call 01793 463275.

Next year, councils will have the power to double council tax on homes empty for two years, currently capped at 50 per cent. In Swindon, the council made the charge on 155 properties.