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  1. Blog
  2. How many empty homes are there in the UK?
Research & Insights
05 January 2024

How many empty homes are there in the UK?

Kimberley Taylor
Writer & Researcher

Table of contents

  1. 1. How many empty homes in UK?
  2. 2. How many empty homes in England
  3. 3. Why are there so many empty properties?
  4. 4. The impact of empty properties
  5. 5. Bringing empty properties back into use
  6. 6. Local authorities and council tax
  7. 7. Empty homes programmes
  8. 8. What can the UK government do about unused homes?
  9. 9. National empty homes week
  10. 10. Summary: It's time to invest in empty homes!

It's no secret the UK has seen a huge housing crisis over the past few years. House prices rising, rental stock depleting, and record numbers living in temporary accommodation are calling organisations, charities and local governments to generate more affordable homes for those who need it most.

So how many empty homes are there in the UK? And what's being done to help solve the problem?

How many empty homes in UK?

As a general rule, homes that are unoccupied for six months or more are considered to be long-term empty. You can find out how long a home has been left empty via council tax records.

In the UK, Stafford in the West Midlands was revealed to have the highest number of empty properties, with their vacant properties making up almost nine times the number of households on waiting lists. Brentwood followed suit with three times as many vacant properties.

Other areas that had more empty properties than households on waiting lists include Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole while Stoke-on-Trent, West Berkshire, Tameside, Great Yarmouth, Wealden, Lichfield and Southend-on-Sea.

According to census data from 2021, Wales had a higher proportion of empty homes than England. Of 120,450 total dwellings, around 85% were completely vacant, and 15% were second homes.

In Scotland, 43,000 long term empty properties were revealed by the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership. They've brought over 9000 long term empty homes back into use since it was founded in 2010.

How many empty homes in England

Recent government data revealed that there are 261,189 long-term empty properties in England as of 2023. This is a 5% increase from 2022, and a 16% increase compared to pre-pandemic standards. Another 200,000 empty properties are covered by exemptions, meaning they don't have to pay any council tax.

But that's not all - on top of the official total vacancy amount of 676,000, another 277,000 second homes or furnished empties and over 70,000 second homes flipped to pay business rates as permanent short lets are included in the mix.

Over one million properties are empty with no residents, while over a quarter of a million people in England need a home. The homes crisis in England is considered to be a national disgrace by many - and it's unfortunately not difficult to see why.

The largest increase was recorded in the South West of England, with the number of empty properties rising by 9% in just one year. There's been a growing sense of concern around second homes in these areas.

Why are there so many empty properties?

Properties may be empty for a number of reasons. They could be second homes, the owner could be carrying out renovation work before moving in, or they may be short term let rental homes.

Number of second homes is at a record high

Second homes have become a major factor in the growing number of empty homes as they have no permanent occupier, particularly in coastal and rural areas like Devon, Cornwall and Wales.

The number of second homes not in residential use rose to over **263,000 last year, **and in some areas of the UK, holiday lets and short-term lets actually outnumber rental homes on the market by up to 100 to one!

The impact of empty properties

Ultimately, empty properties are a hugely wasted resource. In some areas, the existing housing stock from empty homes could accommodate people on social housing waiting lists.

If a home is left empty, it's removed from the housing market, which means it can't go on a housing register to support people on housing waiting lists, or for people to get on the property ladder.

Empty second homes can also make it difficult for locals to get on the property ladder, which in turn has an impact on employment and the local economy.

More than 1.2 million homes are currently on these waiting lists in England, and there's enough housing supply to accommodate them if vacant properties are put to use.

Bringing empty properties back into use

Bringing empty properties back into use is essential in improving the current housing crisis. Not only will it support those on the housing waiting lists, it encourages people towards investment, provides opportunities to improve communities, and generally improves the quality of life for those living near empty homes.

Not to mention the environmental impact as well - while building a new home has a carbon footprint of 80 tonnes of CO2, refurbishing an old house only holds a carbon footprint of 8 tonnes - that's 10 times better for the environment!

Local authorities and council tax

There are some things local authorities can do to try and bring empty homes back into use. One of the biggest things they can do (though they haven't reimposed this law since the UK government set this action 10 years ago) is bring in a council tax premium to act as a deterrent for those who leave properties empty.

This lets councils charge between 50% and 300% extra on council tax bills if a home has been left empty for more than two years.

Some local authorities also offer financial incentives or loans to encourage landlords to renovate properties so they can be brought back into use.

Empty homes programmes

The Council Homes Programme enables local authorities to buy empty homes in order to boost housing stock. This helps to create more housing supply for those in need.

What can the UK government do about unused homes?

The government is currently making moves to take action on empty homes with the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. This bill is aiming to allow local authorities and local councils to force empty home owners to pay a council tax premium after just one year, as opposed to two.

The Levelling Up Bill is also aiming to charge furnished holiday homes up to 200% in council tax premiums if they're left empty for too much of the year.

Wales and Scotland have made pleas to landlords to follow affordable housing commission proposals by investing in a £50 million National Empty Homes Grant scheme. This scheme aims to encourage homeowners to make an inward investment by renovating their empty homes and bringing them back into use. They'll get a grant of up to £25,000 to boost energy efficiency and make homes safe and comfortable to live in.

The Welsh government is hoping to see this scheme bring up to 2000 long term empty homes back on the market.

National empty homes week

During National Empty Homes Week, which took place between 27th February and 5th March 2023, Leeds Building Society analysed government data to discover how many empty homes there are in England.

They found hundreds of thousands of empty homes in England. And with more and more people in need of housing, the number of empty homes calls for serious action to support the national housing crisis.

Last year, National Empty Homes Week saw hundreds of councils publicising the action they're taking to incentivise home owners to bring more empty homes into use. Councils placed hundreds of thousands of families in temporary accommodation at a cost of £1.2 billion per year - and they feel it's time to take action on all the wasted housing resources.

Action on Empty Homes, a national campaigning charity aiming to help with the current UK's homeownership crisis, called on the government to strengthen Empty Dwelling Management Orders - which would involve removing the need to prove antisocial behaviour, vandalism or dangerous dereliction before being able to put an empty home into use.

Scotland and Wales both have a national empty homes programme with support from organisations like the Empty Homes Network, but England still hasn't established a nationally funded programme or housing policy to return empty homes to use. Scotland and Wales, for example, have started projects to help address the short let and Airbnb market through licensing schemes and new residential use classes.

Summary: It's time to invest in empty homes!

Local communities could benefit greatly from investing back into empty homes. With over a million homes in the UK left vacant, there are ample opportunities to build affordable homes for those who need it.

If you have a second home or an empty home that is just sitting there, have you considered renovating it to put to use? It's a great way to help local communities and make more out of your investment. Not to mention increasing the value of your home! For an instant valuation of your home, check out our Online Valuation Tool here.

And if you're interested in finding out more about how to help the empty homes crisis in the UK, there are loads of charities and organisations you can research, from Action on Empty Homes to the Empty Homes Network.

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