The Guardian (p11) reports that returns by councils to the DETR show a rise of 11,500 in a year, destroying the misconception that the main cause of vacant property is council houses on bleak northern estates, abandoned as people move south in search of work.
The empty properties ranges from old Lancastrian terraces to boarded up structurally sound properties in London.
The Empty Homes Agency, a charity partly funded by the DETR, yesterday accused the government of complacency. 'It has a responsibility to take action and introduce tough policies to help councils, and others, tackle this blight,' said Ashley Horsey, chief executive.
The agency wants ministers to give councils discretionary powers to charge owners of long-term empty properties the full rate of council tax.
London councils and the agency also believe that speculators are taking advantage of the capital's property boom by sitting on empty houses in the hope of making a killing in the rising market. Around a third of London's 113,000 empty homes have been vacant for more than a year.
John Brownas, empty property officer for Croydon LBC, said: 'Investors seem to be looking at capital appreciation and hanging onto empty houses until they judge the market to be right so they can dispose of them - making a big profit without the need for either improving or renting.'
Croydon recently imposed a compulsory purchase order on a company that owned seven houses in one street, each of which had been empty for up to seven years.
Some councils, however, has been accused by the agency of ignoring the problem. It argues that the government should force all town halls to have an empty property strategy, which would set targets for brining vacant homes back into use.