THE owners of long-empty homes across Wearside and East Durham could be hit by a tax hike in a bid to push them into returning them to the market.
Liberal Democrat regeneration minister Andrew Stunell (left) said powers for local authorities to add a levy to council tax bills would be the subject of a consultation.
He will also tell community and voluntary groups they will be allowed to bid for cash from a £100million fund to pay for revamping empty houses.
In Sunderland, it is estimated that there are 4,268 empty homes, 1,729 of which have been left vacant for six months or more. In County Durham there are 9,925, of which 4,735 have been left empty for over six months.
Mr Stunell told the Lib-Demconference that, at a time of a chronic shortage in housing, it was a “crime” 300,000 properties had been vacant for more than six months.
The Government is due to publish its empty homes strategy in the autumn, which will include a raft of initiatives.
At present, properties are exempt from council tax for the first six months of being left empty, after which it is levied at the standard rate.
Under the Empty Homes Premium proposal, any that were still empty after two years could become liable to the higher local charge.
Mr Stunell said: “It’s a scandal, in fact it’s a crime – when thousands of families cannot get a decent home.
“The premium will act as a spur for landlords to bring their properties back into use quickly.
“And, where they don’t, it will provide an extra revenue stream for local authorities to plough back into bringing more homes back into use.”
Talking about the £100million kickstart fund, announced last year, he said the strategy would “open the door” to bids from councils, housing associations and other providers, with work on the ground starting next April.
“The record of previous governments on social housing was nothing short of a disgrace,” added Mr Stunell.
“Millions of social homes were sold off and not replaced, whilst waiting lists soared to record levels.
“As things stand, 4.5million people are on social housing waiting lists.
“That’s 1.8million families waiting for a home they may never see.”