Revealed: Reasons why there are so many empty council houses in Sheffield

The reasons for almost one thousand council homes in Sheffield lying empty have been revealed.
Sheffield Town HallSheffield Town Hall
Sheffield Town Hall

At the last full council meeting in 2023, Cllr Douglas Johnson, the chair of the Housing Policy Committee, was asked a series of questions about council properties and in a written response, he told members that as of November 27, there had been 947 empty council properties in Sheffield – and if those houses unavailable for letting were excluded, the number of vacant properties would stand at 761.

This sparked quite a heavy debate on social media so the Local Democracy Reporting Service approached Cllr Johnson for more information as to why these numbers were so high and why there were so many empty council homes in Sheffield.

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He said there were a mixture of reasons for this, including repairs.

Cllr Johnson said: “The simple answer is because the council has so many houses – nearly 39,000 houses.

“You’re always going to get some (empty properties) because people move in and out of houses, it is to be expected that you have some that are empty.

“Of course, when people move out houses have to be fixed up (one of the problems was about houses being let without being at a suitable standard because they were let quickly).

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“They get brought in to repair and then you’ve got a process, of course.

“Quite a lot of that 974 properties are actually being taken out of the system because the large number of flats under Park Hill which are technically owned by the council still it’s part of the Urban Splash development.

“It’s a mixture of things when you look at the total number of that.”

He also blamed old policies implemented 15 to 20 years ago.

In the mid-2000s, Cllr Johnson added, the council had had “a policy of knocking down and demolishing hundreds and hundreds of homes” across Sheffield to actually reduce the number of homes it had.

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Now, with the increase in cost of living, this approach seems “mad”, he said.

Cllr Johnson branded a statement from community union ACORN, where the group had claimed the council was keeping homes empty, “misleading”.

He said: “It’s misleading because the council is not sitting on them, no one wants those houses being empty.”

Homes, he added, could be empty because the council made an offer and they were waiting for an answer, too.

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In July 2022, there were 20,848 people registered but of that, less than half, 8,474, were actively bidding for available homes.

“It’s a complex system”, Cllr Johnson said.

At full council, during members’ questions, Cllr Johnson also told Cllr Diane Hurst (Richmond, Sheffield Community Councillors) that while the target for reletting was 49 days, the average was 104 days, actually.

“That’s far too long”, he admitted but added progress is being made.