One in 10 shops in UK high streets and shopping centres were empty in October - the worst figure since the British Retail Consortium's nationwide survey began in July 2011.
As retailers continue to battle against stagnating sales and rising costs, the new figures showed last month's town centre vacancy rate at 11.3%.
A fifth of store units are currently empty in Northern Ireland, while the rate for Wales is 15.1% and for the North & Yorkshire region the rate is 14.6%. Greater London had 7.6% of its units lying empty.
BRC director general Stephen Robertson said the latest figures would set "alarm bells ringing" and the financial challenges for both customers and retailers were far from over.
Big brands including JJB Sports, Clinton Cards (LSE: CC.L - news) , Blacks Leisure, Game and Peacocks have either disappeared or scaled back their presence in town centres after going into administration.
And the collapse of electricals chain Comet this month will be another blow.
Mr Robertson renewed his call for Chancellor George Osborne to freeze business rates, which are set to increase by 2.6% in April.
He said: "Many retailers are battling stagnating sales and rising costs, and next year's threatened business rates increase can only make matters worse.
"If the Government wants to breathe life back into our town centres and ensure the retail industry can play its full role in job creation, it needs to freeze rates in 2013."
In response, a Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: "Empty shops are a wasted economic opportunity that spoil the town centre.
"That is why we are proposing to scrap the damaging red tape that is keeping so many shops boarded up, allowing young entrepreneurs to open pop-up shops and turn the high streets into an exciting start-up launchpad.
"The best thing Government can do to help businesses is to provide them with a stable economic environment, which is why we want to protect local firms from soaring tax bills.
"We've postponed the revaluation, which will stop soaring tax bills for 800,000 firms, and given businesses the option of spreading this year's increases out over three years.
"Councils also have the power to grant discretionary discounts, and we've temporarily doubled small business rate relief, meaning approximately a third of a million businesses - including many small shops - are currently paying no rates at all."
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