The director of a national charity which campaigns to bring empty homes back into use as affordable housing says “we are slow walking into a crisis as Cornwall is being left behind by a lack of action”.

During a Cornwall Council meeting earlier this year, several councillors brought up the number of empty, or void, properties in their divisions – over 2,000 are deemed long-term empty. However, the Action on Empty Homes organisation says that number is just the tip of the iceberg if the number of second homes, Airbnbs, holiday homes and other categories are taken into consideration.

The charity, which has spent 30 years fighting for homes to be brought back into use, says that the number of empty homes in Cornwall is currently around 20,363, which equates to more than one in 14 properties.

Using Government data, Action on Empty Homes breaks down the number as follows:

13,140 are ‘second homes’, which doesn’t include commercial holiday lets that are paying business rates. The charity anticipates most being used as holiday homes and/or let on a short-term Airbnb style basis

4,698 are empty homes liable for council tax – which includes 2,794 officially in the long-term empty category (more than six months empty).

2,525 are empty but exempt from council tax – this includes 1,698 Class F empties which are homes empty as a result of the owner being deceased.

Rebecca Moore, director of Action on Empty Homes, said: “Our analysis of Government data reveals that more than one in every 14 homes in Cornwall is currently out of residential use. Over 20,000 homes will lie empty this evening, despite the challenges that local people experience in finding secure and affordable housing.

“Two-thirds of these are classed as so-called second homes – many of which will be rented on short-let platforms such as Airbnb. Locals are losing out in Cornwall, whether renters or would-be buyers. We are hearing reports of landlords evicting long-term tenants in search of higher profits, which has a devastating impact on young people and families in the community. The situation is no better for local homebuyers, who find themselves priced out as they try to compete with cash-rich, out-of-town investors.”

She added: “The latest Government policy allowing councils to increase council tax on second homes has been sold as an attempt to redress this balance – but it is too little too late, as a huge amount of homes are already used as short lets or so-called second homes. We are slow walking into a crisis as Cornwall is being left behind by a lack of action. We need to give local councils back control of their housing, allow limits to be set on Airbnb numbers and bring in restrictions on homes being taken out of residential use.”

Action on Empty Homes says that while 250,000 people are in need of homes in England, more than 260,000 properties lie empty on a long-term basis.

Cornwall Council owns around 10,300 homes, 30 per cent of which do not meet the current decent homes standard. In February, councillors agreed a 7.7 per cent increase in rent which will help pay for improvement work to be carried out. The council also agreed to a housing business plan which will see £83m of revenue investment over the next eight years on repairs and maintenance with a priority to deal with damp and mould, while £204m will be spent on building or acquiring new homes.

The council also recently agreed that from April 1, 2025, second home owners and any dwellings occupied periodically are charged a 100 per cent council tax premium.

Cllr Olly Monk, the local authority’s portfolio holder for housing, said earlier this year: “There are many reasons properties are left empty by the owners, including probate disputes, long-term hospitalisation, owners going into care, etc.

“We do, and are allowed to, charge double council tax on a property that’s empty for two years or more and this rises to 300 per cent after a property has been empty for five years. We have a team who chase down people who own empty properties and try to work with the owners to get the property back into residential use.

“It’s really frustrating to see any property not being used to its full potential and we work with the resources at our disposal to ensure that as many properties as possible are being used for residential purposes.”