By Max Clarke

The number of long-term empty private homes in England has fallen for the first time in three years, according to the latest annual Halifax Empty Homes survey. There were 295,519 long-term empty private homes (homes that have been vacant for more than six months) in England in April 2010. This is a decline of 6%, or 20,537 homes, from 316,056 in April 2009.

This trend has not been reflected accross the border, with vacant properties in Scotland reaching a 7 year high of 4.3% of all properties, according to latest figures from the Bank of Scotland.

The number of long-term empty private homes in England is the lowest since 2007, with empty homes now accounting for just 1.6% of all private homes.


Significant north/south empty homes divide

Almost two-thirds (61%) of all long-term empty private homes are in the north. The North West has the highest number (64,596), accounting for 22% of the total across England. The North West also has the highest number of long-term empty homes as a proportion of all privately owned properties (2.6%). In contrast, all southern regions have a proportion of long-term empty private homes that is below the national average (1.6%).


High number of empty homes link to local economic environment

Findings from England and Scotland report that in areas with high levels of vacant buildings;

House prices are lower. The average house price is 29% lower than the national average;

Earnings are lower. Earnings, on average, are 14% below the national average wage;

Unemployment is higher. The average claimant count unemployment rate is higher than the national average (4.2% against 3.5%).

And in 11 of the 16 areas with high levels of vacant homes are among the 20% of areas with the highest levels of deprivation in England.

Suren Thiru, Halifax housing economist, commented:
"It is encouraging that the number of long-term empty private homes has fallen, reversing the increases recorded over the preceding two years. Nonetheless, it is concerning that the problem of empty homes remains substantial in a number of areas. Areas with high levels of long-term empty homes are typically locations with high levels of unemployment, as well as lower than average earnings and property values."