The borough's council has been accused of "smashing up" homes to stop squatters moving in rather than filling them with residents desperate for somewhere to live.

The strategy is part of a policy that has left almost 1,000 council properties empty as concerns rise about the number of council homes being boarded up and left derelict, according to Liberal Democrat housing spokesman Councillor Jeremy Clyne.

The empty properties could be making the council an estimated £5m a year, as well as provide valuable places to live for homeless families, couples and individuals, he claimed.

"It's an absolute scandal," he said. "Smashing up the properties rather than spending money on making them habitable is madness."

Figures seen by the Streatham Guardian for the start of the financial year in the beginning of April show in total 845 council-owned homes were empty.

Of these, 357 needed just £500 or less spent on them to make them habitable while 362 needed more extensive capital works. More than 125 homes were filled with squatters and other unauthorised occupancies.

advertisement"It's important that these properties are filled as soon as possible," said Coun Clyne. "Either the money should be spent on doing them up or the properties sold and the profits invested in improving others in the housing stock but to leave them empty and derelict is not good enough."

He said there were thousands of people looking for places to live in the borough and more of them needed to be housed sooner.

According to the figures,a further 371 homes have been given over to housing associations to fill and a number of other properties used as offices and commercial outlets, which brings the total number of void homes to 1,243.

A council spokeswoman said that within the context of the council housing stock of 26,500 dwellings, the numbers of empty homes was not high.

She added that it was wrong to say the council smashed up properties to prevent squatters getting in, and that sometimes sinks and pipes were removed to make homes uninhabitable to squatters while new tenants sought.

Councillor Lib Peck, cabinet member for regeneration and housing, said that the number of empty properties that are awaiting either demolition or significant investment before letting is in fact 282. She said Coun Clyne either did not understand the figures or was simply trying to grab attention.