A union has said that official figures reveal that West Norfolk has more empty properties than any other local authority area in the region.
The figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government (dating from October 2015) report that the borough had 2,235 vacant properties.
That was 88 more than the second in the list, Southend, and some 450 more than the next authority in Norfolk, North Norfolk (1,764).
Great Yarmouth had 1,701 vacant properties, Peterborough 1,701 and Norwich 1,453.
Fenland had 1,066 empty homes, according to the list, which covers 47 authorities in the East of England.
Altogether, there are 57,336 vacant properties in the East, more than a quarter of which, 16,471, have been vacant for more than six months.
In England as a whole there are 600,179 vacant dwellings, 203,596 of which have been empty for more than six months.
The GMB union are highlighting the figures and calling for changes for how empty homes are taxed.
It said that current tax regimes differ widely depending on where it is located.
Councils can either offer a discount for a second home or an empty property or they can charge extra for empty properties, up to 50 per cent on top of the full charge, if the property has been empty for two years or more.
Warren Kenny, GMB London regional secretary, said: “It is abundantly clear that the current tax regime is not working and a more robust structure is needed.
“Even if the full 50 per cent extra charge in council tax is levied, this is not a deterrent to the wealthiest investors.
“Many, many more of these 57,336 purposefully unoccupied dwellings must be utilised more thoroughly.
“These empty properties can be used and transformed into homes for people and families desperately in need of decent and affordable housing. For that to happen there needs to be a punitive tax regime put in place.
“The decisions of the Thatcher government in the 1980’s to sell council housing stock, and not replace it, and to pay landlords housing benefit instead of providing social housing directly has been a huge and expensive mistake.
Last year, for example, £24 billion was spent on housing benefit, with much of this public money ending up untaxed in bank accounts in offshore tax havens.
“If a fraction of that amount had been spent on social housing for rent, the strain on the tax payer would be less and people would have housing they can afford to live in.
“The situation will only get worse next year when the Housing and Planning Act comes into force in April 2017 which will force councils to sell off high value council properties when they become empty.
“Selling social housing, at a time of dire shortages of homes for rent at affordable prices, is scandalous and irresponsible madness. West Norfolk Council said the figures were swollen by 651 properties where residents are in care, or in probate and which the law prohibits charging council tax.
West Norfolk Council said the figures were swollen by 651 properties where residents are in care, or in probate and which the law prohibits charging council tax.
A large tax base meant as a percentage, West Norfolk actually had less empty homes than others on the list.
Brian Long, West Norfolk Council leader, said: “In respect of council tax we have taken a proactive stance to addressing the issue of empty homes in West Norfolk, and since we were given powers to reduce discounts in 2013 have reduced the discount from six months to three for empty/unfurnished properties, reduced the discount from 100 per cent to 50 per cent on uninhabitable properties, increased the council tax payable on long term empty properties from 50 per cent to 100 per cent up to two years and to 150 per cent for those empty for more than two years to encourage owners to bring these properties back into use. At cabinet next week we will be considering further reductions in the remaining discounts.”
“We also have a Long Term Empty Homes (LTEH) strategy, which includes reviewing the number of homes falling within the LTEH strategy every month.
“When a home has been empty for six months, owners are contacted to establish what is happening with the property. This does not apply to exempt homes.
“The number of homes falling within the remit of the LTEH has reduced from 1,026 in June 2013 to 822 on October 31.”
“We are currently reviewing our LTEH strategy and future approach. This will be brought forward in 2017.”