There are currently more than 216,000 empty homes across England, according to figures released by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

The figure, which has risen for the second consecutive year, now stands at its highest level since 2012.

The number of long-term vacant properties (those that have stood empty for at least six months) rose by 5.3% to 216,186 in the 12 months to October, according to reports in the Guardian newspaper.

The rise compares with a 2.6% increase the previous year – before that, empty home numbers had fallen every year since 2008.

Portsmouth witnessed the largest percentage rise in long-term empty homes, with the number more than doubling to 939 in the year to October.

Other coastal towns and cities were also prominent on the list, with Hartlepool seeing the second-biggest rise, up 53.8% to 726, and Eastbourne posting the third-largest increase, rising 48.4% to 518.

In London, the number of long-term empty homes has also gone up, by 11% to 22,481, with Southwark being the borough with the biggest number of vacant properties (1,766).

Birmingham, the largest metropolitan authority in Europe, had the highest overall number of long-term vacant homes in England, with 4,283, followed by Durham with 4,130 and Bradford with 4,090.

Kit Malthouse, the housing minister, said: ‘Local authorities have a range of powers at their disposal to tackle long-term empty homes, and I expect them to make full use of these so everyone has a roof over their head.’

Neil Fraser, partner at genealogists and international probate researchers Fraser and Fraser, added: ‘In terms of assisting empty homes officers, all we require is a telephone call or email detailing the address of the property, along with any background information that may be already known, and a request to locate the owners.

‘Our researchers will then not only identify the owner, but also their whereabouts; should the owner no longer be alive, the researchers will identify and locate the person to whom the title to the property has passed. The service is free – the company’s costs will be covered by an agreement with the person found.

‘The work will be carried out as quickly and efficiently as possible, to avoid incurring unnecessary costs, as well as to avoid the property falling into further disrepair and losing value.’

For more information, contact Fraser and Fraser on 0207 832 1400