TONIGHT 1 million homes in England will be in darkness, standing empty, with no residents.[i]

While over 250,000 people in England are locked out of secure housing and in need of a home.

The latest Government data shows around 250,000 properties in England have stood empty for more than six months but that isn’t the whole story of England’s empty homes.

Another 200,000 empty homes are covered by exemptions and do not pay any council tax.

Officially total vacancy now stands at over 676,000

...but even that isn't the full picture.

This figure excludes a further 257,000 so-called 'second homes' or 'furnished empties' and over 70,000 second homes flipped to paying business rates as permanent short-lets.

This means that there are over 1 million homes in England with no residents. While over 250,000 people in England need a home.[ii]

National Empty Homes Week February 27th – March 5th

In National Empty Homes Week[iii] hundreds of councils are publicising action they are taking to encourage owners to bring more empty homes into use at a time when councils have placed nearly 100,000 families in Temporary Accommodation at a cost of £1.2 billion[iv] per annum.

But councils say their hands are tied by Government, current powers are weak for dealing with those who simply leave homes empty hoping they will go up in value, or because they lack the funds, energy or knowledge to bring them back into use.

Action on Empty Homes calls on Government to strengthen Empty Dwelling Management Order powers and remove the need to prove vandalism, antisocial behaviour or dangerous dereliction are associated with an empty home before action can be taken.

We also call for a new Nationally funded Empty Homes Programme[v] with funding devolved to local councils so they can choose the right mix of 'stick and carrot' measures to deal with their local empty homes problems.

Why second homes matter:
So-called ‘second homes’ are notable, because these homes are not in residential use long-term, just like long-term empties – yet they do not appear in Government’s ‘all vacants’ number.

The definition is controversial because one owner can own as many ‘second homes’ as they like and does not have to prove use of them as a ‘second home’, nor pay council tax  penalties for leaving them empty and unused.

So are these all 257,000 ‘second homes’ actually holiday homes? This seems unlikely, with thousands in cities like Bradford (2,577) or Leicester (a staggering 4,412) - where respectively 1 home in every 37 and 1 in every 21 are out of use long-term[vi]

Furthermore, many holiday homes let commercially are registered for business rates and fall outside this data.

Now new powers are coming.. but we argue these aren’t enough
The Government Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill currently in parliament will bring new powers for councils to introduce empty homes council tax premium after 1 year rather than two, something we have long called for.

For the first time the Bill will also offer similar powers to double council tax on second homes, or furnished empties, where these are not being let. This is a significant recognition of these homes vacancy. But these measures alone are not enough

Both Wales and Scotland now boast national empty homes programmes, while England has yet to establish any such national-level programme to return empty homes to use or channel funding towards such projects.

It is striking that in addition to these programmes, both the Welsh and Scottish Governments have also been addressing other forms of vacancy as the UK’s housing crisis intensifies, at a time when both rents and house prices have been rising to historically high levels.

Scotland and Wales have recently taken steps to address the short let, or Airbnb, market, either by imposing licensing schemes to limit the number of Airbnbs and other short-term let properties (as in the case of Scotland) or by introducing new residential use classes to distinguish between primary residences and second homes, (in the case of Wales).

Director of Action on Empty Homes Rebecca Moore, said,
‘There are over one million homes without residents in England and there are hundreds of thousands of people in housing need. We must act now and long-term empty homes and unused second homes - which make up over 530,000 of those homes without residents – are a good place to start.

'These are homes you can’t rent and you can’t buy but they could offer vitally needed housing. During a national housing crisis we cannot afford to see half a million homes stand empty because of the lack of a government strategy to support councils to bring them back into use.'

Data references:
Action on Empty Homes is a national campaigning charity previously known as The Empty Homes Agency and provides the only independent annual analysis of official data on empty homes.
Community Benefit Society Number 27697R
Recognised by HMRC as having charitable status: Ref number: XR28505

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[i] Government data, Council Taxbase Nov 2022, Dept Levelling Up Homes and Communities:

[ii] Shelter’s analysis of Government data (Jan 2023) puts the number at 271,000:

[iii] Details of National Empty Homes Week 2023:

[iv] Affordable Housing Commission Proposals reported in 'Landlord Today'

[v] A new national Empty Homes Programme would:
• Introduce new powers to allow local councils to bring empty homes back into use.
• Create a national fund to support councils in bringing tens of thousands of long-term empty homes back into use through a locally focused programme of grants and loans.
• Ensure owners taking advantage of this programme agree nomination rights and fair rents with councils, so that homes brought into use can help alleviate local housing need and reduce the £1.2 billion national temporary accommodation bill.
• Create a fund for local authorities to help local community-led housing projects which sustainably refurbish long-term empty homes and buildings.

[vi] Action on Empty Homes Analysis:

and Publications and Research: