ACTION must be taken, campaigners have said, after it was revealed more than 1,500 privately-owned homes in Caerphilly county borough have been lying empty, some for more than 10 years.

A Freedom of Information request has revealed, in March this year, there were 1,560 privately-owned homes in the county borough which had been empty more than six months - including 279 which had not been lived in for more than five years and 118 which had been vacant for more than a decade.

The figures also revealed 111 empty homes had been brought back into use over the past two financial years with help from the council - at a cost to the taxpayer of £271,285.55.

But the borough's Plaid Cymru group has called on the council to do more.

Ex-council leader Cllr Lindsay Whittle, who also sits on the Caerphilly Homes Task Group, said: “Action is needed to reduce the number of empty properties.

"The council could place orders on home owners to force them to spend money on dilapidated houses.

"Alternatively, they could make a bid for funding under the Welsh Government’s Invest to Save scheme.

"This would help allow the authority to employ more staff to track down owners and force them to bring houses up to a standard and then sell or let them.

“The council is also looking at doubling council tax on empty houses but personally I think they should be considering trebling it for those properties that have lain vacant for five or 10 years. Some leeway could perhaps be allowed to elderly home owners, who are in long term care.”

And the group's leader Cllr Colin Mann said: “There are more houses empty for over six months in Caerphilly than in Cardiff which has a far bigger population and more houses.

“That suggests to me that the council has to do more to tackle this problem which is blighting communities.

"In my own ward of Llanbradach, I’ve dealt with cases where neighbouring properties have been badly affected by dampness as a result of long-term empty houses.

“Perhaps the council could also work with a registered social landlord to ensure more empty homes are brought back in use."

Labour Cllr James Prichard said the availability of affordable housing was key to the issue and the council's Policy and Resources Committee, which he chairs, has been working to push the issue up the authority's agenda.

"On May 29 the committee heard from expert witnesses representing Shelter and Cornerstone Support Services as part of the Homelessness Strategy and Action Plan," he said.

"The cabinet member responded positively to members questions on the implementation of council tax premiums on second homes and empty properties to help bring empty properties back into use.

"Recent Welsh Government legislation allows local authorities to implement up to a 100 per cent premium on landlords who leave properties vacant for more than 12 months.

"There's no benefit to people in need of housing if houses are allowed to be left vacant for long periods of time. The committee will be investigating options in a future report."

A Caerphilly County Borough Council spokesman said: “The council is also keen to bring as many empty properties back into use as possible and we will be considering options around this issue in the near future.”