The number of homes left empty for six months or more has soared in Richmond, figures show.

Housing charity Action on Empty Homes has warned that empty homes reveal the "stark reality" of the country's "broken" housing market.

The latest count shows that the number of long-term vacant properties in the area has risen by 42% since last year.

There were 488 vacant properties in the area that had been sitting empty for six months or more, up from 344 last year.

Campaigners say those homes could be brought back into use to help families in need of social housing.

Action on Empty Homes campaigns to bring more empty properties back into use for people in need of housing. It believes that official figures underestimate the true scale of the problem.

The majority of the long-term empty properties were at the higher end of the housing market, with houses in the top four council tax bands making up 55 per cent of the total.

Action on Empty Homes campaign manager Chris Bailey said that high-value new builds lying empty are a "waste of space".

He said: "Investment is going in the wrong place. New builds push up the price of sites and compete with social housing.

"Across England more than a million families are on social housing waiting list, and tens of thousands are in often unsuitable temporary accommodation. Yet billions of pounds' worth of property stands empty.

"Every empty home is a wasted opportunity to make a family's life better, and at a time of national housing crisis this is more critical than ever. Empty homes are a canary in the coalmine telling us the stark reality of our broken housing market. The time to fix that is now."

Across England, 228,000 properties had been unoccupied for more than six months, up from 217,000 last year. The number of homes unoccupied for more than two years also rose, from 61,000 in 2017 to 62,000 this year.

Polly Neate, chief executive of homelessness charity Shelter, said: "Looking at the figures today, it's exasperating to see that the number of empty properties has increased at a time when there are so many families without a safe and secure place to call home."

But she said that the Government should prioritise building more social housing first. "Some of these homes will be empty for good reason, and others are in the wrong place to offer any kind of practical solution for those in desperate need of a home." she said.

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: "Local authorities have a range of powers at their disposal to tackle long-term empty homes, and we expect them to use them."

Next year local authorities will have the power to double council tax on homes left empty for two years or more - a premium currently capped at 50%. In Richmond the council charged a premium on 144 longer-term empty homes.

Cllr Liz Jaeger, Richmond Council Cabinet Member for Housing, said: “There are over 85,000 properties in the borough and it is not a surprise to me that 0.5% of them are vacant for six months or more.

"Properties are vacant for a whole raft of different reasons. This could be because families are going through probate, or they are waiting to sell. And in some cases, a small number of properties will be left vacant by their owners for a very long time – in some cases years. 

"Whilst there are powers for councils to compulsory purchase, this is an incredibly complicated, costly and time consuming process. I would ask that anyone concerned about the condition of a property to speak to the Council now.”