Sheffield Council defends record on social housing shortage - and pledges more building

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Sheffield Council has defended its record on council housing – and vowed to build more to tackle a nationwide shortage.

Between 2009/10 and 2013/14 there have been 2.2 million bids for council houses or housing authority social houses in Sheffield, an average of 444,000 bids per year from 15,493 people.

General view of Wybourn estate taken from Manor Lane 25/5/13

General view of Wybourn estate taken from Manor Lane 25/5/13

But just 4,736 bids are actually successful per year, on average – a typical bid success rate of 30.7 per cent, according to figures revealed in two Freedom of Information Act requests submitted by The Star under the Your Right To Know Campaign.

Coun Steve Ayris, Lib Dem councillor for Graves Park, said: “This is a legacy problem and one not exclusive to Sheffield.

“Social housing has been undermined and undervalued by successive governments. That culture has spread to councils such as Sheffield.

“Since 1967 there were only 12 years when council house completions rose. If you take out housing associations, the last Labour Government held the worst record for council house building. In 2004, only a dismal 130 council houses were built nationwide.

p5 lead' Gleadless Valley estate  Aug 26 2002

p5 lead' Gleadless Valley estate Aug 26 2002

“The council needs to be proactive in tackling vacant housing; there are 777 empty properties in Sheffield that have been empty for more than two years.”

Sheffield Council has sold 702 council houses under right-to-buy legislation since 2009, as well as 48 housing authority houses, at a total value of £31.2 million.

The council has to pay most of the money to central government, but has kept £9.3million. But the authority spent none of that cash on building replacement houses for three out of the past five years. In 2012/13 it spent £745,000 and in 2013/14 it spent £2.5 million.

In the same five-year period, the council kept £5.6m of the money for ‘capital purposes/investment’.

Coun Ayris added: “Having a low housing supply inflates prices across the board in both social and private rented sector as well as potentially lowering standards in the private sector.

“It also makes it difficult for any first time buyers wanting to climb onto the property ladder by increasing pressure on the demand for homes. This can be stressful as people are forced to remain in housing not suited to their needs.”

Figures show that there were 16,169 applicants for social housing in 2009/10, who made 439,216 bids in total. Of those, 4,765 were successful – meaning only of 29.4 per cent of people who bid for a council or social house actually got one.

All four years saw about 16,000 people bidding, with about 4,700 being successful. The figures did improve in 2013/14 – the year Sheffield Council said it changed its approach.

That year, 12,906 people applied, making 253,751 bids, of which 4,744 were successful – 36.4 per cent of applicants got a property.

Sheffield Council director of housing Janet Sharpe said: “Before 2013 we had an allocation policy where anyone could bid for any property at any one time even if they weren’t suitable.

“So the actual number of bids didn’t really reflect the number of people looking for housing.

“What we do know is we need more social housing in the city – and this is a national issue. This is why we have ambitious plans for building and acquiring homes in the city for social housing.

“What we realised was a lot of people were bidding for a lot of properties, but when we started interviewing them we realised that accommodation wasn’t suitable, so we were wasting quite a lot of time.

“So what we have now as part of the register, we understand people’s needs and understand what they are eligible to bid for.

“Before 2012, all councils, not just Sheffield, didn’t have the capacity to build new social houses.

“This changed in 2012/13 with the reform of the council housing system. So now councils across the country like Sheffield are starting to build for the first time.

“When the rules changed, we spent time looking at where we needed to build.

“As part of the reform we are now on site building 41 at Manor and Darnall.

“We have a further 45 in Birley and we want to increase that number to 180, with a further 800 or so we will be acquiring.

“Our target is to acquire or build 1,000 new homes by 2019/20.”