If I stand in my front room and look out of the window, I can see two houses that have been empty for as long as I can remember.

They are both perfectly good houses, 1930s semis that would make ideal family homes.

They have decent-sized gardens to the front and rear and three bedrooms, although to be fair the third bedroom is pretty small.

I’m guessing they probably need a bit of renovation and maybe some modernisation but other than that, they are absolutely decent houses in a pleasant part of town.

Given the state of the housing market at the moment, I suspect they are each worth about £200,000.

But they are empty and unused and have been for years and years.

I guess someone still has an interest in them because the gardens are kept in check and the grass is mown but it is a puzzle as to why they haven’t been sold and there is no indication they ever will be.

To be honest, if someone left me a £200,000 house, I’d have it on Rightmove before you could say ‘long holiday in the sun’.

In my naivety, I thought leaving houses empty and unused was somehow unusual, an aberration brought about by extraordinary circumstances. Turns out it’s not so unusual after all.

I’m not talking about houses in Kensington and Chelsea bought as investments by absentee owners who sit back and watch their value increase on a daily basis, or holiday homes Wales or Cornwall that are left empty for most of the year, I’m talking about ordinary houses in ordinary towns that people could reasonably live in.

According to the most recent government council taxbase figures released in November 2021, there are 238,306 homes in England that are classed as long-term empty homes.

This means that they have been left vacant for more than six months.

That number has increased in the past few years. Empty homes were at the lowest point in the last decade back in 2016 when there were just over 200,000 properties left vacant. Since then that figure has risen by 20 per cent.

And this matters. According to The Big Issue website, charities have warned that housing waiting lists are growing, with increasing numbers who have nowhere else to go being put up in council-provided temporary accommodation.

At the most recent count, there were 96,060 households living in temporary accommodation in England as of September 30, 2021.

So I applaud Cheshire West and Chester’s five-year strategy to bring 1,000 empty homes across the authority back into use.

Cllr Matt Bryan, cabinet member for housing, planning and climate emergency, said: “We have already been successful in recent years in reducing the number of long-term empty homes across the borough. More than 965 long-term empty homes were returned to use following the last strategy in 2016.

“Our new strategy aims to bring another 1,000 empty homes back into use over the next five years; this target is ambitious, but realistic and achievable.

“The council is committed to continuing to reduce the number of long-term empty homes, to make use of this wasted resource, provide more housing for those in need and improve neighbourhoods.” 

I was interested to see the details that underpin the scheme – a carrot and stick approach.

I like the fact the council will contact every owner of an empty home to ask about their plans for their property and explain the options to bring it back into use. That should put absentee owners on notice that they can’t just sit on an empty property forever.

Owners will also be told about the grants and loans that could be available to them to bring a house back up to habitable standard so there’s no excuse for them to simply do nothing.

But it’s the final part of the strategy that intrigues me. According to a council spokesman: “We will also take enforcement action in certain specific circumstances such as enforced sales or compulsory purchase orders.”

I wonder just what those ‘certain specific circumstances’ are. And if the threat of having the house sold from under them doesn’t concentrate the minds of absentee owners and prompt them into action, they deserve to lose their houses.