Southend Council has said it is aiming to get more empty homes back on the market – despite not being able to say how many there are across the borough.

The authority confirmed it has introduced a council tax premium on properties left empty for more than two years and employed a new council officer tasked with getting privately owned properties back on the market.

But when bosses were asked how many empty homes there are currently in Southend, they were unable to say.

Glyn Halksworth, interim director for housing, said: “Restoring empty homes is a lengthy and complex process.

“The recent internal appointment of an empty homes officer will give us the opportunity to develop our work with landlords, address any issues and provide a single point of contact within the council for empty homes issues.

“Whilst bringing empty privately-owned homes back into use will not impact on our social housing list, it is an important part of our Housing, Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy.

“Since April 1, the council has increased the council tax premium on homes left empty for more than two years by 100 per cent, effectively doubling the liability as an incentive for the owners to bring these dwelling back into occupation.

“However, whilst we have increased the liability, we would much prefer to work with landlords and residents to offer advice, make homes liveable and help return them to use.”

Owners of empty and unfurnished homes are still given a 100 per cent discount for one month.

While the council was not able to confirm how many homes are empty in the borough, a five-year strategy developed by the council in 2015, recorded 651 empty homes in the 2012-13 financial year, which represented about £130 million of unreleased value on the housing market.

But this was when the average house price in Southend was £200,000. Since then it has ballooned to £325,000.

It also details how properties adjoining empty homes can be devalued by as much as 20 per cent as a result, with the impact on an average property at the time of £35,000.

While hundreds of privately-owned homes are potentially standing empty each year, the council is desperately trying to house 1,433 people who are currently on the housing waiting list.