The Government needs to bring many of the country’s estimated 762,635 empty houses back into use if they are to find homes for homeless families who spend Christmas in temporary accommodation.

That is the message today from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

The organisation said although there are currently 1.6 million households on council housing waiting lists, homes could be found for most, if not all, if the Government takes action to bring empty properties back into use.

Although the Government has announced a raft of measures to help homeowners avoid being repossessed, little is currently being done to help those who don’t have a home.

Local authorities have the power to issue Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs) on properties that have been vacant for six months or longer.

But the Government needs to make it more attractive for empty property owners to rent their properties by reducing VAT on the renovation and repair of buildings from 15 per cent to five per cent.

The Government has taken small steps by introducing this discount for properties that have been empty for more than two years – they now need to go further and offer this discount to all properties, claims the RICS.

RICS says that bringing empty homes back into use as quickly as possible will provide an added boost to housing supply in areas where demand is high, and provide much needed regeneration in low demand areas.

Debbie Walsh, head of public policy and communications for RICS West Midlands, said: “As people spend Christmas at home with their families they should spare a thought for the many people who are homeless and in temporary accommodation.

“Thousands of homes should not be allowed to stand empty while people are homeless or suffering from poor living conditions.

“The Government must use all its powers to bring these homes back into use by reducing VAT on repair of buildings and reinforcing council powers.”