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Brexit and Empty Houses: Most Unoccupied Houses in England

There are currently more than 200,000 properties sitting vacant in England. That’s nearly 1% of the total number of properties in the entire country. But, with a growing population, why are so many homes remaining unoccupied?

Studying government figures[1] and their own HomeProtect data, we investigated property trends across England to identify the areas with the highest volume of vacant dwellings and how things have changed over the last five years. Property expert Emily Evans was also able to shed some light on the reasons why there are so many empty homes both across the nation as a whole and in such high volumes in certain areas. Read on to learn more.

Where are the most unoccupied properties located?

Top 10 areas with the highest number of unoccupied properties (2018)
Area No. of unoccupied properties
1 Greater London (all boroughs) 22,481
2 Birmingham 4,283
3 Durham 4,130
4 Bradford 4,090
5 Liverpool 3,703
6 Cornwall 2,742
7 Leeds 2,788
8 Kirklees 2,144
9 Wirral 2,097
10 Sheffield 2,433

As you may expect, Greater London is home to the highest number of unoccupied properties in the whole of England. Of over 3.5 million properties in total across the city and surrounding areas, 22.5k are long-term vacants, with 8% of these sitting in the Borough of Southwark alone. The London Boroughs of Croydon (7%), Camden (5%), Lewisham (5%) and Kensington & Chelsea (5%) are also hot on its heels, making up the bulk of the empty dwellings. And, what’s more, 19 in every 500 homes in the City of London are currently unoccupied.

Evans explains that “Southwark, especially, is home to a lot of part-time homes and Airbnbs; whereas, the southern parts of the borough are classed as more ‘up and coming’ areas, meaning a lot of properties will be bought and renovated there.” 

While Greater London accounts for approximately 1 in 10 unoccupied properties in England, property vacancy isn’t a trend isolated to the capital. Outside of London, Birmingham takes the number one spot for the highest number of vacant properties of all other districts (4.3k), closely followed by Bradford (4.1k) and Liverpool (3.7k).

“Due to the cost of properties in the main cities like London being so high over the last 5 years, landlords have been turning to cities like Birmingham and Liverpool,” says Evans. “They’re not as easy areas for letting in, however, so many of these properties are staying unoccupied for longer. These cities are also popular ‘weekend break’ locations, so the properties could be used as Airbnbs.”

Looking at the broader picture, large metropolitan cities are the predominant contributor to the total number of vacant dwellings, however, smaller coastal towns and cities are also experiencing a high volume of empty homes.  2% of the total properties in Blackpool, Lancashire are unoccupied, as well as 2% in North East Lincolnshire; and 2% in Torbay, Devon.

“The first reason for there being a large number of unoccupied properties near the sea is because they’re being used as holiday homes. Secondly, it will be because of renovation,” says Evans. “A lot of homes on the coast will be old cottages that require work – that people are buying and doing up.”

Top 10 areas with the highest percentage % of unoccupied properties (2018)  
Area % of unoccupied properties
1 City of London 3.78%
2 Blackpool 2.09%
3 Blackburn with Darwen 1.98%
4 North East Lincolnshire 1.98%
5 Torbay 1.96%
6 Bradford 1.90%
7 Durham 1.71%
8 Hartlepool 1.65%
9 Liverpool 1.63%
10 Middlesbrough 1.62%

Why so many properties are sitting empty

There are various reasons why a home may be vacant, including that they’re up for sale, in probate, under renovation, are occupied solely during the week or at the weekend, have been bought as an investment or have simply been abandoned.

“Multi-millionaires will buy properties with no intent of even using them as a home or holiday home, but purely to be held as an investment,” says Evans. “Another reason is Airbnb – The Government has made it difficult to be a landlord, meaning landlords are now selling up or choosing to adopt the ‘Airbnb’ holiday home model, over a traditional residential let.

Also, if you register your property as ‘business premises’, you may not have to pay council tax, so people letting their home on Airbnb are able to do this. So, the ‘unoccupied’ property figures might not necessarily mean they are permanently unoccupied, but just not occupied as a normal residential let.”

According to HomeProtect data covering insured properties, the areas with the highest number of dwellings used as a weekday home are Fenland in Cambridgeshire and Kensington and Chelsea in London. On the other hand, the areas with the most properties used as weekend homes are Ryedale in North Yorkshire, Cherwell in Oxfordshire and Mid Devon in Devonshire.

Evans voices that “the reasons for the high volume of holiday homes in these areas could be our ability to easily travel around more [with the likes of Zipcar car rental services and high-speed rail connections], resulting in an increased awareness of the beautiful areas in the UK. People will now buy holiday homes here rather than buying abroad.”

A growing trend or on the decline?

Looking at the five-year period from 2013-2018, the government data signifies that there has been a 0.06% increase in unoccupied properties across England. This said, at closer look, there was a substantial dip in the number of vacant properties between 2013 and 2017 – falling to 200,145 before hiking back up to 216,186 in 2018 to almost match the 2013 figure of 216,050.

Top 10 areas with the highest rise in number of unoccupied properties between 2013-2018
Area % change in number of unoccupied properties Number of unoccupied properties in 2013 Number of unoccupied properties in 2018
1 Isles of Scilly 100.00% 0 9
2 City of London 80.74% 47 244
3 Croydon 80.67% 294 741
4 York UA 70.78% 154 194
5 Ealing 59.76% 342 153
6 Southwark 52.83% 833 993
7 Slough 50.32% 154 160
8 North East Lincolnshire 50.00% 739 991
9 Newcastle upon Tyne 45.42% 978 1,054
10 Islington 38.49% 382 639

The areas that experienced the most dramatic increase in empty homes between 2013-2018 are The City of London and Croydon, which have each seen an 81% rise. Outside of London, the Isles of Scilly in Cornwall has seen a 100% increase, York in North Yorkshire has seen a 71% increase and Slough in Berkshire has seen a 50% increase.

It works both ways, however, and many areas have also experienced a drop in the number of vacant dwellings between 2013-2018. There has been a huge -394% decrease in Westminster, for example, -189% in Herefordshire and -135% in Manchester.

Top 10 areas with the largest drop in number of unoccupied properties between 2013-2018
Area % change in number of unoccupied properties Number of unoccupied properties in 2013 Number of unoccupied properties in 2018
1 Westminster -394.41% 1,503 836
2 Herefordshire, County of -189.27% 755 603
3 Wandsworth -184.97% 493 437
4 Manchester -135.07% 2,661 1,996
5 Thurrock -130.26% 350 192
6 Barking and Dagenham -128.30% 242 259
7 North Somerset -98.61% 429 122
8 Bristol, City of -65.55% 1,283 1,141
9 Sandwell -59.09% 1,707 1,316
10 Hounslow -57.07% 300 738

It’s interesting to shed some light on not just where the most unoccupied properties are located across England, but why there are so many vacant dwellings across the nation. As its been unearthed, the changing nature of the letting market is one of the key contributors to the number of vacant homes. More and more properties are being used as Airbnbs – especially in popular ‘weekend break’ locations such as Birmingham and Liverpool – meaning they will often sit empty in between bookings or are simply not registered as occupied homes. Similarly, many are also being used as part-time or holiday homes by their owners. Another somewhat controversial reason, is that many properties – particularly in London – are bought solely as investments, resulting in them sitting empty for long periods of time.

Vacant properties can be more susceptible to fire and other hazards, so if you’re leaving a property unoccupied for longer than 30 consecutive days you may want to consider specialist unoccupied property insurance. HomeProtect’s vacant property insurance covers for loss or damage to the structure of the property, legal expenses and cover for renovation, and offers access to an emergency helpline.


Emily Evans has been an Estate Agent and Property Developer for over a decade, owning her own property management company in the South-West of England. Emily is also planning to advise the Government on the housing market to help change people’s lives. 

Please note: This article does not contain investment or tax advice

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/live-tables-on-dwelling-stock-including-vacants

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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