Over 290,00 private homes in England, roughly equivalent to 1.6% of all privately-owned property in the region, have been empty for more than six months, according to new research from the Halifax.
The research says the number of private empty homes has actually fallen by 6% in England over the past three years to 290,862. But in 21 local authorities at least 3% of the private dwelling stock is empty - nearly double the English average.
The figures also contrast sharply with the government's stated aim of increasing house building by up to 200,000 new homes each year.
The Halifax says the highest proportion of empty homes are in Burnley (6.2%), Liverpool (5.6%) and Pendle (5.1%). And of those areas with the highest number of empty homes nine are in the North West, while three are in the West Midlands.
Meanwhile, 19 out of the 21 local authorities with the largest amount of empty private homes rank among the most deprived areas in England.
The research states 12 out of the 21 local authorities with a high level of empty private homes had an unemployment rate above the regional average.
On average, high empty home areas had a claimant count rate 0.8% above the regional average. The worst performer in the group – Leicester - had an unemployment rate more than double the regional average.
Moreover, 20 out of the 21 local authorities with a high level of empty private homes had average earnings below the regional average and all had earnings below the English average.
Average weekly earnings in areas with a high amount of private empty homes are, on average, 9% below the regional average and 18% below the English level.
In the North West 2.6% of the private dwelling stock is empty, the most of any region. The smallest proportion of empty homes, perhaps unsurprisingly, is in the South East with only 1.1% of property unoccupied.
Ten local authority areas had more than 3,000 empty private homes in 2005. The highest numbers of empty homes are in Birmingham (9,837), Liverpool (8,114) and Leeds (6,096), says the research.
On a regional basis the number of empty homes has fallen in 6 out of 9 English regions, led by Yorkshire and the Humber with a 0.5 percentage point drop. The number of empty homes has held steady in the North East, West Midlands and the South East.
Tim Crawford, group economist at Halifax, says: "There are still nearly 300,000 private homes in England which have been vacant for more than six months. This is a number which clearly needs to be brought down, particularly in the context of the country's longer term housing needs.
Restoring an empty home is likely to be expensive, potentially costing close to £30,000 by our estimates. We encourage the government to broaden the incentives available for restoring empty homes and extend the reduced 5% rate of VAT for renovating an empty home to all properties vacant for more than six months, not just properties vacant for more than three years."
Liberal Democrat housing spokesperson Dan Rogerson has called the research shocking, adding: "Labour has failed when it comes to housing the nation. Britain needs sustainable homes for all - bringing some of these empty homes back into use would be a useful first step.
"The long-term solution must be to build quality and affordable, energy efficient homes to buy and rent."
If you have any comments you would like to add to this story or would like to speak to its author about a similar subject, telephone Matthew West on 020 7484 9893 or email [email protected].IFAonline
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