Election 2015

Reality Check: How many people have second homes?

Cornish harbour Image copyright Thinkstock

The Liberal Democrats are suggesting that councils should be allowed to double council tax on second homes.

It is one of the proposals in their Countryside Charter.

The idea is to discourage people from owning second homes in beauty spots, so that people who want to live permanently and work in the area will not be priced out of the market.

How much of an issue are second homes?

In the 2011 Census, 1,570,228 people in England and Wales said they had a second address in England and Wales outside the local authority of their primary residence, that they used for 30 days or more each year.

Another 47,733 of those people had second addresses in Scotland or Northern Ireland, while 820,814 had second addresses outside the UK.

But these are not all second homes in the sense that the Liberal Democrats are talking about:

  • Only 11% of these people, or 165,095 of them, are classified as having these second addresses as holiday homes
  • 15% are classified as having them as student accommodation or for work
  • More than three-quarters are classified as having them for "other" reasons

And indeed these figures are not for the number of second addresses, they are for the number of people with second addresses, and many of these second addresses will have been given by more than one member of a particular household in the census.

For more detail, albeit for a smaller area, you can look to the English Housing Survey.

It tells us that in 2012-13 (the most recent figures available) 671,000 households had a second home that they were not renting out to other people as their main residence.

In fact, some of them had a third home, because they managed 752,000 between them.

But it does not necessarily mean that they own that second home - it could be that they rent it.

And for more than half of those households with a second home, that home is outside the UK, with France the most popular location, followed by Spain.

According to the Department for Communities and Local Government, there are approaching 28 million dwellings in the UK, so clearly a very small proportion of them are second homes.

But the point is that they are not evenly distributed across the country, with the Census figures suggesting that 6% of holiday homes are in Cornwall, 5% in Gwynedd and about 3% each in North Norfolk, South Lakeland, East Lindsey, Pembrokeshire and the East Riding of Yorkshire.

How much doubling council tax on second homes in areas like these would put off potential holiday home buyers is not clear.

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