Anyone who leaves their house empty for six months or more should face the threat of losing it, ministers said yesterday.
They told town halls to pressure homeowners to sell up or rent out homes where no one is living.
Those who fail to get a house occupied before the deadline risk having it seized by their local authority and used to house council tenants.
The campaign to force homeowners to dispose of empty houses was launched by housing minister Margaret Beckett, who said the slowdown in construction of homes means empty ones must be used.
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It is most likely to affect recently bereaved families who could face seeing the home of a dead relative taken if they delay too long in deciding what to do with it.
- A d v e r t i s e m e n t
During the recession many families are likely to hang on to empty property because they cannot sell or let it, or because they are hoping for higher prices.
Councils have been told to send threatening letters warning homeowners of their powers to ‘take over the running of the property and bring it back into use by force’.
Owners who fail to respond will then be sent questionnaires designed to establish whether the town hall has the legal right to seize their property.