Mayo County Council has called on Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien to extend a scheme for the refurbishment of vacant and derelict properties.

The Department of Housing's Croí Cónaithe initiative provides maximum grants of €30,000 for works on vacant buildings that can be repurposed as a principal private residence.

Funding of up to €50,000 can be sought to refurbish derelict properties.

But the scheme is limited to applicants in towns with a population of more than 400 people.

Independent Councillor Mark Duffy said that stipulation means property owners in smaller rural areas cannot avail of the potential benefits.

He argued that the regeneration of derelict and vacant buildings in such villages and townlands would offer a huge opportunity for people seeking to live and work locally.

Cllr Duffy said the extension of the scheme would greatly assist first time buyers who might want to renovate a building.

He said many properties that are abandoned could be refurbished and used to ease the accommodation crisis across the country.

His call on Minister O'Brien to expand the criteria for conversion and improvement works has been backed by the local authority.

A total of €50 million has been set aside to fund the scheme. Grants are provided for a range of improvements, including internal and/or external works; roof completions and the provision of plumbing, heating and ventilation systems.

The Department of Housing says Minister O'Brien has indicated that he will extend the Croí Cónaithe scheme, following an initial assessment.

It says it expects an announcement will be made in the coming weeks, in relation to refurbishment works on properties located outside towns and villages.

Currently qualifying properties must be in towns or villages with a population in excess of 400 people, but the Department says in some instances it will apply to smaller villages "with sufficient provision of services and amenities".

Any homeowner availing of the scheme must reimburse the full amount of the grant if they sell their house within five years.

Three quarters of the grant is recoverable if the property is sold between five and ten years after the grant has been awarded.

There is no clawback on sales that take place after a decade or more.