UK has fewer empty homes

THE number of English homes left standing empty for six months or longer dropped for the first time in three years last year, in a sign that a stagnant housing market and high rental demand is pushing up occupancy levels.

The number of long-term empty private houses dropped by more than 20,000, or six per cent, in the year to April, lender Halifax’s Empty Homes survey showed today. The total number of unoccupied homes in England was 295,519 in April 2010, down from 316,056 in April 2009.

Numis Securities analyst Chris Millington said more empty properties might have been brought into use because a “mortgage famine” among first-time buyers strengthened demand for rented property.

Alan Clarke, economist at BNP Paribas, said the fall could have been due to a shortage of new homes. “We are not building enough houses to keep up with population growth, which may have increased occupancy rates,” he said.

Others suggested that people who had invested in property might have chosen to rent them rather than sell while prices are low.

The figures showed a gaping north-south divide. In southern regions just 1.1 per cent of private homes stood empty, below the national average of 1.6 per cent, but more than two per cent of all homes in the north were long-term unoccupied.

Northern regions were home to almost two-thirds of all long-term empty houses.

Just 1.2 per cent of London private properties were unoccupied but some boroughs bucked the trend.

Tower Hamlets had the highest level in England, at 6.5 per cent of all private houses, above areas such as Liverpool on 5.2 per cent.