Out of a maximum 9,735 beds, 2,404 were standing empty as of June 2020, a survey by 5 News of National Care Association (NCA) members has found.
This is an 87.6 per cent increase from June 2019, when there were 1,281 vacant beds reported.
Total average occupancy rates were 81 per cent in June this year, compared with 92 per cent for the same month last year, the research found.
NCA chairperson Nadra Ahmed called for action to prevent “provider failure across the country” following the “devastating impact” of coronavirus on the sector.
There have been almost 20,000 deaths of care home residents linked to Covid-19 up to 12 June – the majority dying in their care home.
Ms Ahmed said: “Providers have been delivering care services despite the funding challenges for over a decade at least, any resilience they had in their businesses has been eroded by this virus and many now face an uncertain future.
“The government response to calls for support was late and inadequate, they must now redeem themselves by responding to the call for urgent support to halt provider failure across the country as the sector faces rising debt and low occupancy.”
The Croft Care Group, which operates three homes in West Yorkshire and one in Durham, said half the beds in one of its homes are standing empty.
Director of care James Creegan said: “Being brutally honest, if things didn't improve then we would need to look at the future of the care home and whether it is financially viable going forward.
“Currently we have 34 people living here, it is their home and if we had to make a decision to close, I know I would be pretty devastated.”
Simon Jones, director of policy and public affairs at the end of life charity Marie Curie, said the pandemic has “accelerated” the need to make decisions on the future of care homes.
He said: “There is no doubt that some people will be fearful whilst coronavirus remains in the community of going into a care home. We must have care homes for them in the future, and keep in mind that the elderly are the fastest growing population in the country.
“If we fail to find a sustainable model for care homes we will only create a fresh new crisis in the near future.
“A crisis for the NHS, for social care, for families and, most importantly, for the tens of thousands who need the care and support of a care home at the end of their lives.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said it has worked closely with the sector through the pandemic, adding: “We are doing everything we can to support the social care sector and will bring forward a plan that puts social care on a sustainable footing to ensure the reforms will last long into the future.”
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