Thousands of empty homes are to be renovated by councils, community groups and homeless people after ministers admitted the number of empty properties crumbling into disrepair was a "scandal".
One in 12 houses is empty in some parts of the country despite an acute shortage of affordable homes. Andrew Stunell, the communities minister, believes more effort – and cash – aimed at renovating empty properties can provide more affordable homes without plans being derailed by local residents who fear the impact of new development.
As well as depriving someone of a home, long-term empty properties can become a honeypot for trouble – attracting vandals, squatters and estate agents keen to write off whole neighbourhoods as undesirable.
Official figures suggest there are 740,000 empty homes in England. In Scotland there are an estimated 23,000 empty privately owned homes while in Wales around 26,000 properties have been empty for at least six months. It emerged last week that there are around 5,000 houses in Northern Ireland which are partially built, a grim result of the collapse in the housing market.
The problem is so severe that government plans are being drawn up to double the number of properties in England that can be brought back into use through a £100m fund announced earlier this year. Voluntary groups and homeless people could be drafted in to carry out renovations, slashing labour costs and improving their skills.
The Treasury will match the council tax raised for every empty property brought back into use, as part of the coalition's New Homes Bonus. The money can be spent on whatever local councils choose. In the Comprehensive Spending Review it was announced that the £100m would make 3,300 empty properties fit to live in by 2015.
However, since then Mr Stunell has told officials that the figure needs to be more ambitious. Details will be announced in the next month, but a source said: "Mr Stunell is keen to go further and is believed to be confident he will exceed this target."