THERE are more than 8,000 empty homes across south Hampshire, new figures have revealed, with numbers in Winchester being higher than 10 years ago.

Homeless charity bosses voiced their frustration after the figures showed that there are 8,501 empty homes across Southampton, Eastleigh, the New Forest, Fareham, Test Valley and Winchester.

More than 2,600 were empty in Southampton – higher than any of the five neighbouring local authority areas.

This comes after civic chiefs confirmed that there are 8,500 people on the housing waiting list in the city.

But they said the empty homes could not be used by the council unless the home owners are registered as social owners.

The data published by the Press Association and released by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government showed that of the 2,608 empty homes in Southampton, 618 have been left empty for more than six months.

The figures also showed that when the last count was taken in October last year, there were 1,228 empty homes in Winchester, 62 more than in 2008.

Trevor Pickup, chief executive at The Society of St James, which helps homeless people across Hampshire, said the figures are frustrating.

He added: “I don’t know why there are so many empty homes but it’s a shame. It makes me feel upset. If we could bring more houses into use it would have an impact on the houses crisis we have nationally and it would help reduce the number of people sleeping rough.”

Southampton Itchen MP Royston Smith said: “The government are investing billions of pounds in housing and homes. Last year 217,00 new homes were built and that will be 300,000 by the mid 2020s. By 2020 we will have delivered over one million new homes. Southampton City Council has dragged its heels on house building and abandoned the successful Estates Regeneration programme.”

But councillor Warwick Payne, cabinet member for housing and adult care at Southampton City Council, said the authority has a specialist empty homes officer and more than 100 empty homes are brought back into use each year.

He added: “We are trying to build new homes on council land and investigate if we should use compulsory purchase orders to buy empty homes when the owners are not engaged or are not doing anything to help.”

When asked why there are still more than 2,600 empty homes in the city, Cllr Payne said it depends on a variety of reasons.

“It may be people inherited it and don’t know what to do with it or they buy it to relocate and run out money. One of the reason why Southampton may have the highest number of empty homes is because Southampton has the biggest number of homes. I would be more interested in percentage figures.”

Meanwhile, neighbouring Test Valley was the best performing area, with 772 empty homes, 25 less than in 2008.

There was also a large drop in Eastleigh to 953 – 424 less than in 2008 – while in the New Forest there are 1,956 empty homes, 500 of which have been left empty for more than six months.