Minister of State for Housing Damien English has said a vacant home tax is not something being considered by the Government at the moment.

He was responding to the Peter McVerry Trust, which said imposing an additional tax on vacant properties would ease the homeless crisis.

Latest figures show there are now over 7,000 people homeless and living in emergency accommodation.

Quoting the CSO, the Peter McVerry Trust says there are 198,000 empty homes across the State.

They say a high proportion of them would be suitable for those who are without homes.

Today, the trust proposed a scheme which they say would help activate those empty units.

They say a doubling of the property tax should be levied on owners on certain homes if they refuse to put them back in the system.

The charity's CEO Pat Doyle said such a scheme is up and running the UK and the Netherlands.

However, the minister said a vacant home tax is not something being considered by the Government.

Mr English said there is a range of new measures to help activate vacant properties, such as the home renovation scheme and in addition local authorities have also been given an extra €25 million to buy homes.

He said he believed these positive measures would be more productive in freeing up properties, adding that Minister for Housing Simon Coveney is prepared to look at all options, including a vacant home tax. 

However, he said such a tax would be complicated in terms of legislation and would need a long lead in time.

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Ireland's first Empty Homes Conference, organised by the trust, is taking place in Dublin today.

The main focus of the event is to find solutions to get the almost 200,000 empty homes across the country back into the housing system. 

Mr Doyle said that a doubling of the property tax could raise €20m, which he said could then be "pumped back into bringing in other empty and derelict sites".

He said while there is a good re-building programme in Ireland, new builds can take two to three years and "we are sitting on empty properties right now".

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Doyle said excluding houses in dispute, those in probate, and those that are being used to fund nursing homes, "there is probably still five units for every homeless person in the country."

He said there is an onus on owners to get these homes back into the system, given the housing crisis.