Nearly 500 homes in Wealden district are sitting empty, research by the Liberal Democrats has revealed.
The figures, uncovered through Freedom of Information requests, show that there are 467 homes across the district that have been empty for six months or more.
Of these, 168 had been empty for two years or more, 77 for five years plus, and 24 have stood empty for at least 10 years.
Wealden Lib Dems’ parliamentary spokesperson Chris Bowers said: “We are as keen to tackle homelessness as anyone else, but unlike other parties we have stressed that we can’t build our way out of trouble – we have to ensure existing buildings are made maximum use of as well.”
Councils have the power to make Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMO) to take over properties that have been empty for at least two years. Wealden District Council has yet to issue one EDMO, said the Lib Dems, despite the fact that some local families spent Christmas without a home.
Nationally only 19 of the 247 councils in England and Wales that responded (the powers do not apply in Scotland) had used an EDMO in the past five years. Of these only six had used one in the past year.
Mr Bowers added: “At a time when the homelessness crisis is worsening, more and more people are sleeping out in the cold on our streets, and vast swathes of greenfield land are being given over to new housing.
“It is a scandal that so many homes that already exist are sitting empty across Wealden. These homes could be turned into affordable places to live for those that need it.
“The Government needs to urgently review the current system which is clearly not working, and Wealden District Council needs to use its powers to bring empty homes back into use. It’s shameful that the Conservative-dominated council gives the impression that it just doesn’t care.”
A spokesman for Wealden District Council said: “The number of empty homes quoted in the FoI reflects the churn that can be expected given the current state of the housing market of some 69,000 homes.
“These will include a number of probate sales. This is also reflected by number of empty homes brought back into use in Wealden during 2016/17 which is 886 - a figure not quoted on the Lib Dem website.
“We do try to encourage owners to let their property if it is not occupied, but EDMOs extremely costly, time consuming and you have to have a very good reason for doing them and justify this to a court.
“In Wealden most of our empty properties are rural, hidden and often on estates. We do not think we would get approval through the courts to take possession of them.”
Benefit from an ongoing discount on your Sussex Express by joining our voucher membership scheme. Once you’ve subscribed we’ll send you dated vouchers which can be exchanged for your paper at any news outlet. To save money on your Sussex Express simply click here www.localsubsplus.co.uk