MORE than 31,000 private homes in Wales are empty — and the Welsh Government is being called on to do more to help bring them back into use.
The Liberal Democrats were set to use a debate in the Senedd to highlight the blight these properties have on Welsh communities after they asked voters what they wanted to see on the agenda.
Out of the 31,000 homes, 23,000 are long-term vacant, meaning they have been empty for six months or more.
According to Welsh Lib Dem figures, in Swansea there are 1,788 empty homes, in Carmarthenshire there are 2,104 and Neath Port Talbot has 1,216.
Peter Black, South Wales West AM, said: "Empty homes are a huge problem here in Wales, as can be seen by the support this issue received in our poll. It's an absolute tragedy that there are over 31,000 empty homes across the whole of Wales just sitting there going to waste while there are so many people on the housing waiting list. Welsh Labour has done too little on this and more must be done to tackle the problem.
"The Welsh Liberal Democrats are using our debate to call on the Welsh Government to develop a strategy that will help local authorities bring empty homes back into use.
"It is essential that we equip our local authorities with more effective tools if we are to make real progress on this issue. This is why the Welsh Liberal Democrats want councils to be allowed flexibility in their approach to council tax.
"The Houses into Homes initiative is a welcome start, helped in particular by the fact that the initial £5million identified for the scheme was doubled to £10million following the budget deal between the Welsh Liberal Democrats and the Welsh Government last year.
"But we believe this scheme needs to be developed much further, including ensuring that there is more information out there for people to access."
Swansea Council, for example, is currently reviewing its empty homes strategy following a report to cabinet last month.
A Welsh Government spokesman said 2,000 empty homes had returned to use and the Houses to Homes scheme was helping more and more every week.
He added: "Local authorities already have considerable powers to address empty homes and we have published guidance to assist them in using these powers effectively.
"The Housing White Paper, published last year, highlighted our intention to legislate to give local authorities a discretionary power to increase council tax on long-term empty properties to encourage owners to bring them back into use through either sale or rent. This legislation is expected to be included in the Housing Bill later this year."