THE drive to end the scandal of Scotland's empty homes has seen just 200 properties brought back into use while some 23,000 remain unoccupied across Scotland.

New figures also show only half of councils have specialist staff in place to tackle the issue of empty privately-owned homes, with a total of just 10 empty homes officers covering 16 local authority areas - half the number of Scottish councils - according to the housing charity Shelter Scotland.

However, a survey carried out by the Sunday Herald has found six councils are planning to massively increase council tax charges for long-term empty properties, in a bid to deter owners from leaving them unoccupied. Local authorities were given new powers in April to increase charges by 100% on certain homes that have been empty for one year or more.

Since 2010, the Scottish ­Government has been funding the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership, run by Shelter Scotland, which aims to help councils carry out work to bring private empty properties back into use.

Figures released ahead of a ­Shelter Scotland conference on empty homes, taking place in ­Glasgow on Tuesday, show councils managed to bring just four empty properties back into use in the first year of operation. Last year the figure was 76, while so far this ­financial year 106 empty properties have been brought back into use.

Kristen Hubert, empty homes co-ordinator for Shelter Scotland, said there was a mix of attitudes among councils and that they should all have some kind of empty homes staff provision. The local authorities that have specialist officers in place include Argyll and Bute, Clackmannanshire, Dumfries and Galloway, East Lothian, East Ayrshire, Falkirk, Fife, Perth and Kinross, Renfrewshire, Scottish Borders, Stirling, West Dunbartonshire and West Lothian.

"There is obviously always the resource argument, where councils say they can't afford to do that work - and it isn't a statutory requirement," she said. "Obviously we are trying to make the case for why it is an issue and it is an opportunity in terms of housing supply and bringing those properties back into use."

An ideal target, she suggested, would be for councils to aim to bring back about 10% of empty private properties over the course of about five years - which would add up to about 2300 across Scotland.

In England and Wales, local authorities have powers to take over the management of long-term empty properties and let the homes out. In Scotland, councils do not.

Hubert said the focus in ­Scotland was on trying to encourage councils to use the resources they already have, but the charity could push for greater enforcement powers in the future if that was not sufficient.

She added: "We have gone from zero empty homes officers to having 10 who are covering half of the country in three years, so that is quite a lot further than some people thought we would have got by now."

Hubert said there were a number of problems faced when trying to tackle empty properties, such as tracking down owners and persuading them to think about taking action, due to the fact there is no power of compulsion.

"Sometimes, it is a case of going back and having to plant a seed in the mind of the owner ... your neighbours are complaining, you are causing issues for the community and it is not benefiting you financially. It is always going to be a long-term process to bring the ­properties back into use."

The reasons for long-term ­unoccupied properties - usually defined as being empty for a year or more - are varied. A Scottish Government report carried out in 2009 found many homes become vacant when the previous occupant died, moved into hospital or institutional care, or was evicted.

Other owners find the prospect of becoming a landlord too onerous a responsibility or are put off by the cost of repairs. While the properties are lying empty, problems such as vandalism can arise - yet the homes could boost the housing supply by being sold, let or in some cases bought back by councils.

Figures show there are currently more than 155,000 people on council housing waiting lists across ­Scotland - many of them young and struggling to get on the ladder.

It is also estimated that while the cost of building a new home from scratch can be as much as £100,000, an empty property can be brought back into use for a fraction of the cost, between £6000 and £25,000.

Councils say they have a range of schemes in place to help bring empty properties into use, ranging from discounts at builders' merchants to loan schemes to help owners improve their properties and "matchmaking" schemes to help find interested buyers.

In April, local authorities were also handed powers to levy an additional council tax charge on long-term empty properties and to reduce or remove any council tax discount currently applied to properties that have been vacant for more than 12 months.

A survey carried out by the Sunday Herald has found six local authorities intend to use these powers to increase charges in the hope punitive bills will make the owners of empty homes act to put them back into use.

In January, Edinburgh will introduce a 100% increase after 12 months for empty and unfurnished properties.

From April, Argyll and Bute will charge double ­council tax on houses that have been empty for more than two years, while Aberdeenshire ­Council will reduce the council tax discount from 50% to 10% after six months, remove the discount after 12 months and charge a 100% increase in the third year of a ­property being unoccupied.

In Moray, owners of ­properties unoccupied for more than 12 months will have to pay an additional 50% on their council tax from April next year, rising to 100% in April 2015. In North Lanarkshire and Fife, a 100% levy will be charged on long-term empty homes from April 2014. A further six councils - East Lothian, Angus, Aberdeen City, East Renfrewshire, East Dunbartonshire and West Dunbartonshire - said they were actively considering changes. Eight councils did not provide information, including Scotland's biggest local authority Glasgow City Council.

The Scottish Government said it was pleased with the progress of the Empty Homes Partnership.

A spokeswoman said: "As a direct result of this work, more councils are making renewed efforts to bring empty homes back into use, many have specific empty homes ­strategies in place and empty homes work is a feature of their local housing strategies."

She said changes to council tax and the £4.5 million Empty Homes Loan fund would require more time to have a full impact. She added: "Bringing empty homes back into use does takes time. But substantial progress is being made. We expect this to grow in future years as good empty homes practice becomes more established."