THOUSANDS of empty properties and second homes are 'gathering dust' in Dorset each year while households continue to be faced with homelessness, figures show.

Campaigners say abandoned dwellings should be repurposed to tackle England's housing crisis, after councils across the country recorded hundreds of thousands of empty homes.

Figures from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) show there were at least 2,072 empty properties in Dorset at the most recent count in October – down 16 per cent from 2,471 last year.

Of those, 1,227 had been gathering dust for six months or more, and at least 336 had been abandoned for more than two years.

Dorset Council has said it is in the process of taking enforcement action over 59 long term empty properties in the county.

Meanwhile the figures, which cover properties subject to council tax, also show 5,726 dwellings in the area were listed as second homes last month.

Different DLUHC figures show in 2020-21, 1,351 households in Dorset were entitled to council support after becoming homeless or at risk of homelessness.

The Local Government Association has called on the Government to give councils greater powers to acquire empty homes.

Bournemouth Echo: Campaigners have expressed concerns over empty homes 'gathering dust' in DorsetCampaigners have expressed concerns over empty homes 'gathering dust' in Dorset

A spokesman for the LGA, which represents councils, said: “At a time when we face a chronic housing shortage across the country and high levels of homelessness, it is wrong for so many homes to be left empty."

Across England, the number of empty homes – dwellings that are unoccupied and unfurnished – fell by 2% to 468,000, while the number of second homes dropped by 4% to 253,300 after rising by the same percentage in October last year.

Owners of properties which have laid empty for two years or more can be charged an extra 100 per cent council tax on top of their bill – rising to as much as 300 per cent if the home has been empty for a decade or longer.

Nationally, around 72,000 dwellings were subject to a council tax premium in October, around a fifth of which had been abandoned for between five and 10 years and 10 per cent for more than a decade.

In 2020-21, councils across the country identified more than 268,000 households as homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Polly Neate, chief executive of housing charity Shelter, said the country's housing emergency is ruining lives, adding that it was deeply frustrating to see properties sitting empty "when so many people are in desperate need of a safe and secure home."

She said more should be done to put empty homes back into use but added: "Even if we filled every one of these empty properties, we still wouldn't have solved the chronic housing shortage we face.

"The only way to solve the housing crisis is to build a new generation of green social housing."

A Government spokesman said more than 243,000 new homes were delivered last year, with £12 billion being invested in affordable housing over five years.

He said the number of empty homes had fallen by 30,000 since 2010, adding: “We have taken significant action to prevent empty homes.

"This includes giving councils stronger powers to increase council tax on empty homes and take over their management, and introducing higher rates of stamp duty and tightening tax rules for second homes."

But Dorset Council has said that there is still a complex process when it comes to dealing with empty properties.

Councillor Graham Carr-Jones, Dorset Council's portfolio holder for Housing and Community Safety said: “We need more housing for Dorset and recognise that bringing empty homes back into use can help us achieve that.

“There can be a wide range of reasons why a property is empty and initially we try to influence and encourage owners to bring homes back into use.

“Where empty home owners don’t want to work with us, we can then look at taking enforcement action.

“This can include compulsory purchase or taking over the property by an Empty Dwelling Management Order. We are now actively working on over 59 of the worst empty properties where such action is either being progressed or considered.

“Tackling the issue of long-term empty properties is often time consuming and lengthy work and isn’t a quick solution for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness however.

“Anyone who is homeless or at risk of homelessness should contact the council as soon as possible for free advice and assistance.”