Vacant dwellings

Key points

Vacant dwelling numbers have been on the decline for most years since 2010 at the national and local levels, but parts of the Lancashire-14 area continue to record vacancy rates that are well above the England average.

Between 2010 and 2017, vacant dwelling numbers fell by 17.8% in England and 14.4% in the Lancashire-14 area. In 2017, vacant dwellings accounted for 2.5% of the total at the national level, but 4.0% for the Lancashire-14 area. Burnley and Blackpool had high levels of vacant dwellings in 2017 at 5.6% and 5.3% respectively. Pendle recorded a significant reduction of 829 (30.8%) in vacant dwellings over the eight-year period, but still had a high vacancy rate of 4.7% in 2017. Hyndburn (4.8%) and Blackburn with Darwen (4.7%) also had high rates in 2017. 

Over the last year, from 2016 to 2017, the number of vacant dwellings in England increased for the first time in the last seven years, by 16,125 (2.7%). Within the Lancashire-14 area, four areas also saw yearly increases, with Blackpool (+124, +3.5%) and Preston (+110, +4.3%) seeing the largest rises. However, for the Lancashire-14 area as a whole, the number of vacant dwellings fell by 704 (2.6%) over the year. Wyre saw the largest yearly fall in the Lancashire-14 area of 344 (27.0%) vacant dwellings, followed by Hyndburn (119, 6.4%), Burnley (117, 2.9%) and Blackburn with Darwen (103, 3.5%).

See Appendix 1 for the latest data, time series and recent changes. 

Certain Lancashire authorities have high vacancy rates and large proportions of properties in the lowest council tax band A category.

Please note that numbers registered as vacant may have fallen since 2013 as councils may now offer zero discount on vacant dwellings which reduces the incentive to register the property as such.

Background information

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) collects data on the dwelling stock, and the numbers include details of vacant dwellings: a unit of residential accommodation that is empty at a particular point of time. Vacant dwellings include those that are empty between change of occupants or undergoing refurbishment, awaiting demolition, or newly completed but not occupied.

There will always be a proportion of the housing stock empty to enable the process of buying, selling and letting to work efficiently, whilst some will be empty to allow repairs and improvement. These are known as transactional vacancies and most are brought back into use quickly and without intervention. It is estimated that the effective minimum level of empty homes as a result of these processes is around 2% of the housing stock.

Not all properties are quickly brought back into use and Appendix 1, available as a download at the bottom of the page, details the number of vacant dwellings in the Lancashire-14 area by district from 2010 to 2017. Table 1 below has the stock counts and percentages of vacant dwellings for 2017.  

Change over time

Between 2010 and 2017, there was a noticeable decline of 131,256 (17.8%) in vacant dwelling numbers for England as a whole, with a significant decrease (74,299) occurring between 2012 and 2013. In the Lancashire-14 area between 2010 and 2017, the decline amounted to a reduction of 4,472 (14.4%) to give a figure of 26,513 vacant dwellings in 2017.

Please note that numbers registered as Vacant may have fallen since 2013 as councils may now offer zero discount on vacant dwellings which reduces the incentive to register the property as such.

Between 2010 and 2017, Lancaster, Preston and Blackpool actually recorded increases of 228, 93 and 68 respectively in vacant dwellings. In contrast, reductions in excess of 800 were seen in Burnley, Wyre and Pendle. Wyre Borough saw a fall of 344 (27.0%) in the last year alone.

Over the last year from 2016 to 2017, the number of vacant dwellings in England increased for the first time in the last seven years, by 16,125 (2.7%). Within the Lancashire-14 area, four areas also saw yearly increases, with Blackpool (+124, +3.5%) and Preston (+110, +4.3%) seeing the largest rises. Fylde (+49, +3.2%) and Lancaster (+18, 0.7%) also saw increases over the year.  

For the Lancashire-14 area as a whole, the number of vacant dwellings fell by 704 (2.6%) over the last year. For the Lancashire-12 area, the number of vacant dwellings fell by 725 (3.5%).

Within the Lancashire-14 area, Wyre saw the largest fall of 344 (27.0%) vacant dwellings between 2016 and 2017, followed by Hyndburn (119, 6.4%), Burnley (117, 2.9%) and Blackburn with Darwen (103, 3.5%). The number for South Ribble was unchanged over the year.

Vacant dwellings as a proportion of all dwelling stock

Table 1: Vacant dwellings, 2017

  Vacant dwellings1 Total dwelling stock2 Percentage dwellings vacant
Burnley  2,267  40,490  5.6%
Chorley  1,364  50,380  2.7%
Fylde  1,592  38,860  4.1%
Hyndburn  1,755  36,640  4.8%
Lancaster  2,756  62,680  4.4%
Pendle  1,859  39,920  4.7%
Preston  2,694  62,580  4.3%
Ribble Valley  791  26,550  3.0%
Rossendale  1,188  31,910  3.7%
South Ribble  1,323  49,410  2.7%
West Lancashire  1,482  49,700  3.0%
Wyre  931  51,640  1.8%
Lancashire-12  20,002  540,760  3.7%
Blackburn with Darwen  2,838  60,520  4.7%
Blackpool  3,673  69,540  5.3%
Lancashire-14  26,513  670,820  4.0%
England  605,891  23,950,000  2.5%

Source Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG)

[1] Number of vacant dwellings is from table 615 on the DCLG website, and derives from the Council Tax Base of October 2, 2017. The figures constitute an exact count.

[2] Total stock figures are from table 100 on the DCLG Website. Total dwelling stocks are based on figures from the 2011 Census, updated using the Housing Flows Reconciliation Form of March 31, 2017. these figures are therefore both provisional and estimated, and are rounded to the nearest 10.

At the national level, the 605,891 vacant dwellings represented 2.5% of total dwellings, whilst for Lancashire-14, the percentage was somewhat higher at 4.0%. The proportion of vacant dwellings is a significant issue in some Lancashire authorities and the Burnley total of 2,267 represented 5.6% of the local dwelling stock, a rate slightly higher than the 5.3% in Blackpool. Hyndburn (4.8%), Pendle and Blackburn with Darwen (both 4.7%) also had fairly high rates. 

The dwelling stock by council tax article highlights the large percentage of tax band A properties especially in the East Lancashire. There would appear to be some correlation between vacancy rates and high levels of old terraced properties that are in the lowest council tax band.    

The only Lancashire authority which recorded a percentage of vacant dwellings below the 2.5% England average was Wyre, where vacant stock fell by 344 (27.0%) in the last year. Chorley and South Ribble were slightly higher at 2.7%.

Additional Information  

The Homes and Communities Agency's website has an empty homes web page.

The empty homes website contains information on initiatives to help tackle the problem of unused dwellings.

The new homes bonus is a grant paid by central government to local councils for increasing the number of homes. The web link gives access to a spreadsheet that details the financial allocations for all authorities across the country, and the numbers of empty homes that have been brought back into use.   

The present rules on council tax levied on empty homes mean that it is up to the local council to decide on whether discounts are applicable.

Further data

Appendix 1: Vacant dwellings, 2010 to 2017, plus recent changes (EXCEL 11KB)

 Page updated May 2018.