The latest government figures reveal that there were more than 16,000 “long-term” vacant houses and flats across Essex at the end of October 2019.

These are properties that have not been lived in and left unfurnished for at least six months.

The number is up from 15,791 homes in October 2018, and is the highest number of long-term vacant properties seen in Essex since 2012.

Since 2016 there has been a 17 per cent rise in the number of vacant homes..

The biggest rises at district level was seen in Harlow where there has been a 36 per cent rise in vacant properties since 2016.

Despite this, there has been criticism of the system of ‘human warehouses’ where families are crammed into former office blocks.

Harlow, with its close links to London and comparatively low property prices, is a prime location for developers, but MP Rob Halfon says the nature of permitted development rights legislation (PDR) doesn’t require the buildings to comply with local planning regulations.

As a result, there have been 1,100 units created in Harlow, none of which he says have been tested against the requirements of the area’s local plan.

In a speech to Parliament in February Mr Halfon called for the Government to takes urgent action in order to stop families from living in such testing conditions.

“We must put a stop to the social cleansing,” he said.

 “We must put a stop to the ghettos. We must give local authorities stronger powers to shut down these human warehouses and ensure our councils have a say in regards to office block conversions.”

Tendring, which also has high levels of deprivation, has seen a 32 per cent rise in vacant homes.

There are many legitimate reasons why a private home can end up empty – for instance, when someone dies suddenly, or when an elderly homeowner moves into care.

However, in some cases property speculators buy flats or houses with the sole intention of keeping them empty while they increase in value, before selling them on – known as “buy-to-leave”.

Charities warn this is contributing to the housing crisis, and is impacting young people in particular.

Abigail Gill, senior policy and research manager at homelessness charity Centrepoint, said: “The increasing number of long-term empty properties are a reminder of how unbalanced the housing market is and underline how difficult it can be for young people trying to find somewhere safe and affordable to live.

“That challenge is particularly pronounced for vulnerable young people struggling to match high rents to low benefit entitlements, who can face stigma from landlords and can find that ‘No DSS’ policies, leaving them with little choice but to opt for poor quality homes, often with little security of tenure.

“It is heart-breaking that more and more houses are standing empty when we continue to see young people struggling to move on from hostels and access long term accommodation.

“This not only has a huge impact on their ability to focus on getting into work and achieving their potential, but it also means that we cannot house the next group of young people who need our support.

“As we enter the next phase of the pandemic and restrictions begin to ease, we urge the Government to work with charities and local councils to address the underlying problems behind the housing crisis.”