THE housing team at the council have rivalled TV’s Heir Hunters in their pursuit that took them to Australia to find the owner of an empty home.

Following reports of an empty property in Leigh, council officers were able to find, identify and work with an owner who it turned out lived 10,000 miles away in Australia.

After the death of their next of kin, the person in question had not realised that they now owned a house in the borough – which is now in the process of being brought back into use for a local family.

This is one of 4,000 empty homes in the borough that the housing team are determined to bring back into use for locals.

Councillor Susan Gambles, cabinet portfolio holder for housing, said: “Our work on bringing empty homes back into use is really vital.

“There are numerous reasons a home can become empty – whether it’s moving out of the area or family members growing older and moving out of their properties and into care facilities.

“Having an empty home can be a stress and a drain on resources, but our teams work with compassion to understand the needs of residents and to look into various options to find out which best suits them.”

This year council officers have been focusing on bringing 136 identified empty properties in the borough back into use.

In addition to working with landlords, the council is prioritising work to upgrade and repair its own stock of homes so that families can access homes in localities where the need for housing is greatest.

Officers have dealt with a variety of matters in this new drive to tackle the issue of empty homes, but they believe the key is to get to the human side to why this house has become empty. Many callouts they get are to homes that actually are occupied and are referred as a welfare issue.

Jo Willmott, Wigan Council’s director of homes and communities, said: “Our empty homes work is a real priority for us here at Wigan council and one of the reasons for this is how much we care about our neighbourhoods.

“We know that empty homes can cause problems for people living close by and so we are working hard to bring these homes back into use.

“This helps local people looking for somewhere decent to live, creates employment opportunities and benefits local businesses.”

The team have realised from working with the landlords of these properties, that not much knowledge on how they could use their land to better help the community such as leasing it to the council for tenants that need it. This is done through the council’s in-house Ethical Lettings Agency.

There are a variety of options available to owners and it is hoped that this work will provide more high-quality and energy efficient homes for residents in the borough.