THE number of empty houses in Hampshire is on the rise.

The number of vacant properties rose from 10,679 in November 2004 to 11,199 last October - an increase of nearly five per cent.

The figures will dismay the thousands of people languishing on council housing lists waiting for suitable homes to become available.

Southampton, with 2,906 empty homes, had more than any other area of the county - and five more than the previous year.

Fareham, Isle of Wight, New Forest and Winchester all saw the number of empty homes in their areas increase over the 12-month period.

Only Eastleigh and Gosport made progress, cutting the number of vacant properties by eight and 36 respectively.

Ministers say abandoned homes risk blighting local communities, as they are targeted by squatters and drug dealers, attract dumping and flytipping and are vulnerable to arsonists.

In response to the problem the government has granted local authorities new powers to seize vacant properties and rent them out against the wishes of their owners.

The controversial empty dwelling management orders enable councils to confiscate privately-owned homes after just six months.

The government believes half the empty properties in England have been vacant for longer than this period but has said the powers will not be used against people who leave their property vacant to go abroad, or against second-home owners.

The exemptions also include properties under repair or awaiting planning approval and those on sale.

The new orders, aimed at bringing empty properties back into use by moving in tenants for up to seven years, are opposed by the Conservatives, who have described them as "Soviet-style" powers that could affect homes owned by people who have recently died.