HUNDREDS of homes left “abandoned” in former mining towns – allegedly because of the ‘bedroom tax’ – will be flogged off for as little as £1, the Government suggested.

A total of 160 homes stand empty in Horden and Blackhall, in East Durham, out of 361 properties managed by Accent housing association.

Accent has withdrawn of millions of pounds of regeneration cash - to replace bathrooms, kitchens, windows, doors and heating systems – believing the homes cannot be let.

And it blames the controversial bedroom tax, which hit “over-occupying” single people with huge housing benefit cuts to live in the mainly two-bedroom terraced properties.

The area’s plight was raised in the Commons by Easington MP Grahame Morris, who called for a comprehensive revival plan, including “some selective demolition”.

But, in reply, housing minister Brandon Lewis pointed to an initiative, in Liverpool and elsewhere, involving “discounted sales to benefit local residents”.

Called ‘homesteading’, empty homes have been sold for as little as £1 to local buyers, sometimes with a £30,000 low-interest loan to help them renovate.

Mr Lewis said: “Accent is currently working on a homesteading initiative, whereby properties can be sold at a discount in return for the purchaser guaranteeing that the property will be their home for a specific period.”

The minister said the plan must pass a value for money test by the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), but added: “As we have seen elsewhere in the country, such schemes can work very well.”

When it pulled the regeneration cash, Accent pointed to the impact of the bedroom tax, which slashed housing benefit by 14 per cent (for one spare bedroom) and 25 per cent (where there are two).

It told Inside Housing magazine that single occupants had been its “only market”, adding: “When the bedroom tax came in, that ceased to be an option.”

During the debate, Mr Morris sharply criticised Accent for its “long-term mismanagement” of the properties in Horden and Blackhall, but said the “tipping point” was the bedroom tax.

He said many “abandoned” properties were boarded up, adding: “When areas fall into disrepair, they become a target for crime and we get a vicious circle of decline.”

And he added: “Although I will criticise Accent for many things, it cannot be blamed for the bedroom tax.”

“As we know, when areas fall into disrepair, they become a target for crime and we get a vicious circle of decline.”

But Mr Lewis denied the removal of the spare room subsidy – the official term for the bedroom tax - was to blame, saying: “That is not an implication that I accept.”

Mr Morris said Accent should not be allowed to “walk away from its responsibilities”, adding: “The genuine fear is that that will lead to an influx of absentee landlords with no interest in the community.”