THERE are nearly 1,300 empty homes in Basingstoke and Deane, at a time when the cost of rent and homelessness are soaring, new data has revealed.

As of October 2023, there were 1,276 empty houses in the borough, according to cabinet member for residents’ services and housing, Cllr Laura James.

This is down from 2,430 empty houses recorded by the Office of National Statistics (ONS)  in the 2021 census - a decrease of 1,154.

This information comes during a cost-of-living crisis, at a time when homelessness is on the rise, with many left unable to afford to pay rent.

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The Gazette contacted Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council for a comment, and Cllr James said: "We are in a housing crisis and we are doing everything in our power to drive forward the delivery of more affordable homes that we know people desperately need.

"As of October 2023, when we compare our figures with national statistics, there were 1,276 empty homes in the borough with most of these empty for less than six months. There are a number of reasons why a home may be empty including a change in tenant, repair or refurbishment to bring them back into use, the owner being away or moving into a care setting or properties subject to probate.

"Although we have limited control, there are a number of things we are doing to encourage owners of empty homes to bring empty homes back into use as soon as possible.

"Guided by our new Housing and Homelessness Strategy, we work closely with landlords to encourage them to bring empty homes back into use and our private rent scheme matches landlords with tenants who are in a good position to start a long-term tenancy in private housing.

"From April, 1 2024, owners of empty homes for one year or more will also pay double the standard council tax charge, rising to a quadruple charge for homes empty for more than 10 years, as part of our Council Tax Support Scheme."

The findings come just over a month after Hampshire County Council revealed that homelessness support service funding and financial help for housing authorities could be axed in efforts by the county council to save £2m.

In efforts to plug the anticipated financial shortfall of £132m by 2025/26, Hampshire County Council approved its savings proposal at full council on November 9 to generate a total of £90.4m, of which £75m is expected to be delivered by 2025/26, leaving an unmet budget gap of £57m in 2025/26.

While over a thousand homes in the borough remain empty, homelessness continues to rise. Homeless outreach charity Julian House operates a shelter in Basingstoke, a spokesperson told the Gazette it is difficult to find the right accommodation to support those who are forced to sleep rough.

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Kaniz Malekin, client services director at Julian House, said: "Our outreach team have seen a significant increase in the number of people forced to sleep rough in Basingstoke over the past year.

"Many of these people have complex needs, which makes it difficult to find the right accommodation and support to help them to regain independence.

"There is simply not enough affordable housing for clients to move into, and local services are under immense pressure to meet demands for support.

"With support from the council's Social Inclusion partnership, we will continue to do everything we can to help people who are sleeping rough to navigate their options and find safe, long-term accommodation to call home."