100 FAMILIES are chasing every council house in Essex, the Echo can reveal.

The depth of the county’s housing crisis has been laid bare in a report which shows there are 28,000 families waiting for council homes in Essex, but there are only 727 empty – and only 271 of these are ready for people to move into.

The figures only include council- owned homes, not privatelyowned properties opened up to council house tenants.

In Basildon, only 87 homes were available, but there was a waiting list of 4,557.

A council spokesman said empty properties are allocated on a rolling basis and do not stay vacant for more than three weeks.

He said: “There would have been 87 people waiting to get into these homes and we would expect that to happen within 21 days.

“At any time of year we would expect that to be the same.”

In Southend, there were 6,043 homes, of which 50 were available – with a waiting list of 1,520.

Jason Flavell, 38, feared he would be made homeless for Christmas after he was evicted from the home he shared with his partner and their four children.

Southend Council provided a one-room studio flat, in York Road, as emergency accommodation for six weeks before the family could find an alternative home. Mr Flavell said: “They offered to try to find us private accommodation, but nowhere wanted to take people on benefits.

“I knew about the process, but didn’t realise how harsh it would be.”

The figures, collated by the Government, give waiting list figures as of April 2013. Castle Point and Rochford fared little better than neighbouring boroughs as even though the population is less, the gap between the number of people needing homes and properties available was just as stark.

In Castle Point, only 24 homes out of an overall housing stock of 1,509 were available, with a waiting list of 1,714.

There are only 94 public sector homes in Rochford, of which none are available, but there is a waiting list of 621.

In some areas, it had been hoped private landlords would make homes available to those on the waiting list, but the recent upturn in the property market has made this less likely.

The Institute for Public Policy Research has called for council tax discounts for empty homes to be removed, with extra charges added to encourage them to be occupied.

At the moment empty homes are only charged 50 per cent of council tax because many taxpayer services are not used.

Nationally there are about 635,000 empty homes.

The Institute’s Bill Davies added: “Long-term empty homes are a luxury England cannot afford.

“With rising house prices, substantial levels of homelessness and lengthy housing waiting lists, empty homes are making the housing crisis worse.

“A more flexible approach to council tax powers is part of the solution to Britain's housing crisis.”

Labour councillor for housing David Norman said Southend Council was tackling the issue by building the first new council houses in Southend for 30 years.

He said: “Although more than 50 per cent of the people on the waiting list are single people waiting for individual accommodation flats, there is an acute shortage of family housing in Southend because a high proportion of the housing stock was sold off in the last 30 years under Right to Buy.

“Because the private sector has failed to bridge the gap, we as a council are re-entering the housing market and building council houses again, the first of which we are due to cut the tape next month, at Bournemouth Park Road, and we’ve also started work on another development in Shoebury.”