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CSO reported 183,312 vacant houses and apartments in Census 2016. How did CSO get this figure?

Some 4,700 census enumerators visited over 2 million homes across Ireland in the weeks around Census Night, April 24th 2016. These visits involved making contact with members of the public to deliver and collect census forms. In some cases, despite repeated visits by the enumerator, the door remained unanswered.  In these situations, the enumerator made an assessment based on CSO vacancy rules and training. This resulted in some of the homes being marked as vacant.

What were the rules that made enumerators determine that the homes were vacant?

Census enumerators adhered to detailed procedures that have been developed by CSO in consultation with key experts across several censuses. As part of these procedures, enumerators varied the times of the day and days of the week they called to homes in order to make contact with householders. For example, when an enumerator called to a home during the day and failed to make contact, they dropped off their contact telephone number on a calling card. The subsequent visits were at different times such as evenings and weekends.

Enumerators also looked for signs of vacancy such as post and junk mail building up, no lights on at night time, no cars in driveways, overgrown gardens and no windows open.  If they observed any signs of occupancy, they could not record the home as vacant.  They also checked with neighbours to enquire about the homes where they could not make contact. If neighbours told them that there were people living in these homes, the enumerator could not record them as vacant.

Would it not be easier for an enumerator to record a home as vacant rather than calling back to try to make contact?

All of the work undertaken as part of the census by enumerators is closely scrutinised by their field managers and is subject to detailed quality assurance procedures. This is designed to ensure that enumerators record the correct details about every home in their area, including whether they are vacant or occupied.

The enumerators are paid based on how successful they were in collecting completed census forms from members of the public.  In 2016, they were paid €3.70 for every completed census form they collected.  They were only paid €1.10 for each vacant home in their area.  They had on average 430 homes in their areas so enumerators were strongly incentivised to persist in attempting to make contact with householders.

Other figures I’ve seen make the 183,312 vacant homes look too high. Why is this?

The census vacancy figure is an accurate point in time measure, on Census Night in 2016.  This figure was arrived at using detailed procedures and definitions which have been applied consistently over several censuses. It includes homes that were vacant for a short period of time. They may have been for sale or in probate or the owner may have been in hospital or a nursing home. These homes may well have been occupied again a few weeks after Census Night and may not be included in other counts of vacancy. 

Other small scale surveys reported in the media would have applied different procedures and definitions  and so would have arrived at a different number of vacant homes. These surveys may also have taken place some time after Census 2016 so would not be directly comparable.

Do you know why the homes were vacant?

CSO has produced new additional figures giving an insight into why some of the 183,312 homes were vacant on Census Night.  While we don’t have a complete picture, we did note that many of the homes recorded as vacant were for sale, rental properties, had a deceased owner or were being renovated. Many of these may well have been occupied again a few weeks after the Census was completed. CSO is planning on producing more complete information of this nature on vacant homes for Census 2021. 

So some of the vacant homes may only have been empty for a short period of time.  Are there figures for long term vacant homes that could be used to provide housing for people in need?

CSO has produced more results comparing the number of vacant homes in Census 2011 with Census 2016. The total number of vacant homes dropped from 230,056 in 2011 to 183,312 in 2016.

It is interesting to note that only 65,039 of the homes which were vacant in 2011 were still vacant in 2016. This may be a useful indicator of homes which were sitting vacant for a long period of time. There were over 105,000 homes that were vacant in 2011 but occupied in 2016.

Did you undercount the population?

Everyone who was present in Ireland on Census Night was required to complete a census form by law.  This included people who were away from their home elsewhere in Ireland on the night.  People who were in other people’s homes, in B&Bs, in hotels, in prisons or in hospitals on Census Night were required to complete their details on the census form at those locations.

For all the reasons listed above CSO is confident that the number of vacant homes counted in the census is accurate and did not systematically contribute to an undercount of the population.  The persistence and dedication of our enumerators in also crucial in ensuring that all households present in Ireland on Census Night are recorded on a census form.

Has CSO provided the census list of vacant homes to any other government department?

No. CSO is forbidden by law to give information about individual people or homes to any other organisation, government or otherwise. We use the information we collect for statistical purposes only.

Where can I find more information on the census vacancy count?

There is a detailed publication which was released in April 2017 - Census 2016 Profile 1 - Housing in Ireland.

CSO has also produced very detailed information on the vacant homes that is very helpful in understanding why vacancy may be high in certain parts of the country - Census 2016 Small Area Population Statistics.

We would be happy to offer guidance on how to interpret this information.  Please contact us at or (+353) 1 895 1300.

AIRO (All Ireland Research Observatory) have also produced a thematic, detailed mapping based on Census 2016 vacant housing data in the link below.