A LETTING agency is calling on North-East authorities to do more to tackle the problem of long-term empty homes.

Darlington-based My Property Box says the number of privately owned homes standing empty in the Tees Valley has increased by nine per cent in the last six months.

Ben Quaintrell, the founder and managing director of the company, is urging councils to take advantage of extra government powers to try and ensure more properties are turned back into homes.

He said: “It’s amazing when you realise just how many homes are classed as being long-term unoccupied when this country is struggling to build sufficient social and low-cost housing to meet the huge demand.

“Many of these properties are situated in more deprived areas and the longer they remain empty, the greater the chance is that they will fall into a serious state of disrepair. This in turn can have a serious effect on the local area, deflating house values and attracting anti-social behaviour.

"Many of these homes could easily be brought back into use whilst providing an annual rental income for the owners. Bringing extra properties onto the private rental market could go a long way to easing the national housing crisis.”

Councils are able to take measures including increasing council tax payable on long-term empty properties.

The total number of long-term empty homes in the North-East and North Yorkshire has risen from 20,992 in 2018 to 22,143 in 2019, according to government data.

The areas within the Tees Valley to experience the biggest increases are Stockton, 938 to 1,170 properties, Middlesbrough, 1,016 to 1,163 and Darlington 592 to 651.

In Redcar and Cleveland, long-term empty homes fell from 865 to 833.

In North Tyneside, from April the council will be able to double the charge on homes unoccupied for more than two years, while properties empty for more than five years face a 200 percent premium and those empty for more than a decade will attract a 300 percent premium.