An additional 750 empty properties are being offered to the State for purchase as social houses by banks and private equity funds.

The Housing Agency said it is assessing the suitability of the properties and expects to approve three-quarters for purchase by Approved Housing Bodies and Local Authorities.

The properties are comprised mostly of AIB and Bank of Ireland loans.

It is understood that negotiations are also at an advanced stage with Permanent TSB, which is expected to offer a significant number of empty properties for sale to the State.

The units are empty, buy-to-let properties, which have been repossessed by lending institutions.

Housing Agency CEO John O'Connor said: "We only buy vacant property. If a property is being rented our preference is that is left as a rental property and the tenants remain in that property.

"There are 750 properties currently available to the State and the agency expects to purchase 550 of these."

The agency oversees the onward sale of the homes to housing bodies and local authorities.

So far, 461 properties have been already bought under the scheme, which was established in 2016.

However, just 223 homes have been occupied by tenants.

It is understood that the nature of the properties means housing bodies are experiencing difficulty in acquiring private finance to fund the purchases - a key component of the model - and in some cases lending banks are undertaking lengthy due diligence on the properties, while in others it is taking longer than expected to negotiate the terms of the loans.

There are also delays in completing any remedial work required on the homes.

Oaklee Housing Trust, one of the largest housing bodies involved in the purchase of these properties, has been allocated 148 properties and 58 are currently occupied by tenants.

CEO Sharon Cosgrove said some of the properties may have been damaged and the sale is not straightforward.

"They may have been buy-to-lets where there has been quite a lot of damage done to properties, for example boilers haven't been serviced for a number of years. In some cases, there is quite extensive repair work to be done.

"We are doing a significant tidying up job from a legal and a property point of view. We have works going on on the ground getting tenants in. It takes a little bit of time. They are not straightforward properties."

However, Mr O'Connor said that any difficulties were confined to "a small number of properties" and he was hopeful the process could be improved.

"We do want it to get more efficient in terms of work being carried out to the properties and tenant them as quickly as possible. We would definitely want it speeded up."

It is expected that a significant amount of additional empty properties will become available this year as banks begin to address their non-performing loans.

The European Central Bank wants the banks to stop kicking the can down the road and deal with the issue.

David Hall, Chief Executive of iCare, a new housing body that wants to buy some of the properties and rent them to social housing tenants, believes the current system is not fit for purpose.

"It is immoral that there are potentially over 1,000 empty homes that are willingly being offered by banks and vulture funds to the Government and that we don't have the infrastructure processes or system to grab those with open arms.

"In circumstances where you have so many people in emergency accommodation and living on the streets, it is obscene that such fussiness can be allowed or tolerated."