THE number of empty homes north of the border has risen to a seven-year high, according to fresh figures.

Almost 80,000 properties are lying unused at a time when charities say the country is facing a housing crisis, with high numbers of people living homeless.

The largest number of unoccupied houses were found in Glasgow and Edinburgh, but every council area has hundreds of empty properties within its boundaries.

In Scotland there were more than 34,000 applications to local authorities from people looking for accommodation between 2016/17, down from 55,000 in 2010.

The Scottish Government said it did not recognise the figure on the number of empty homes, saying the true level was less than half that.

But Helen Williams, from the Empty Homes charity, said that councils and the Government must do more to ensure that homes were put to use when so many were sleeping on the streets.

She said: “It is worth bearing in mind that many owners of empty homes want to bring them back into use, and this is why advice from local authority empty homes staff can make a difference between a property being stuck empty and it being brought back to the market for rent or sale.”

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According to the study by BBC’s shared data unit, there were 8,457 empty homes in Glasgow in 2016, followed by 7,662 in Edinburgh and 5,488 in Fife.

The biggest increase in unoccupied dwellings was in Dumfries and Galloway, where the number of empty properties has risen by a third since 2015 to stand at 3111.

In Scotland, local authorities have the power to charge the full rate of council tax on unused houses, a measure taken up for the rest of the UK by Chancellor Philip Hammond in this week’s Budget.

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said:  “Since 2015 over 400 previously empty properties have been brought into use in Glasgow.

“This accounts for 30 per cent of all the empty homes in Scotland brought back into use over that time.

“Overall the number of empty homes has remained constant, without our empty homes initiative, this figure would be far higher.”

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Shaheena Din, National Manager for the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership als queried the figures, but said that the number of empty homes still putnumbered the homeless in Scotland.

She added: “These are the properties belonging to owners who can’t or won’t take action to get them sold or let out.

“Often owners don’t have the capital needed to get a property ready for sale or occupation or they are overwhelmed by problems.

“That’s why we support a network of empty homes officers in 19 councils across Scotland providing specialist advice and support.

“Recently the Scottish Government committed to doubling its funding for empty homes and we are looking forward to working with them on this important issue.”

The majority of homes lying empty are thought to be private properties, mostly owned by landlords looking to let. They also include homes vacated because they are due to be demolished.

Olga Clayton, Wheatley Group Director of Housing and Care, said: “At Glasgow Housing Association we have one of the lowest rates of empty homes in the UK.

“There’s very high demand for our homes right across the city and they are let on average within a fortnight. The small percentage that are empty are undergoing major refurbishment.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We do not recognise these figures. Official statistics show that there are currently 36,000 long-term empty homes in Scotland.

“However we agree that this is still too many and have committed to doubling the funding for the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership (SEHP) to more than £400,000. The Partnership has brought 2,840 empty homes back into use since 2010.”