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Graham Awards


Little England is out of step – on Right To Buy, at the very least

If you want an indicator that the United Kingdom isn’t so united any more, have a look at Right To Buy.

The latest-available figures are striking enough. In 1980 RTB became a flagship policy: between then and 2014 the UK’s council and social housing stock fell from 7m to 4.5m while the population grew from 56m to 64m.

Our newly disunited kingdom is now much less in love with Right To Buy.


Scotland has now formally scrapped it, after some 494,580 council and housing association homes were sold off between 1980 and August 1 this year. 

Now Wales says it is to follow suit with legislation to come into effect next year – to date, 138,423 homes in the Principality have in the past 36 years been bought by council and housing association tenants, which is reported to be around 45 per cent of its social housing stock.

Right To Buy continues in Northern Ireland but it has never been as aggressively pursued as in England and discounts have been much lower – tenants there are offered discounts of up to only £24,000, compared with nearly £104,000 in England. 

So that leaves England where, as so often seems to be the case these days, things are moving in a different direction. 

Government figures claim that in the three years from 2012 (when RTB was reinvigorated in England with bigger discounts and more publicity) almost 50,000 households in council and other forms of social housing purchased their homes. 

Now new premier Theresa May appears to be continuing the policy promoted by her predecessor that Right To Buy be extended to 1.3 million housing association tenants.

My point in showing this plethora of figures is not to indicate the UK is no longer speaking with one voice – that’s been obvious since June 23, if not before – but that surely after all this time, we have seen the detrimental effect of Right To Buy on social housing stock.

Few would deny that home ownership is a positive and desirable objective: but in a world where priorities have to be agreed upon, surely a social housing stock that at least aims to provide a home for everyone, irrespective of tenure, is more important?

In March this year a press release from the Department of Communities and Local Government accepted that over the time I speak of above – the three years from the 2012 ‘refresh’ of RTB in England – only 5,000 new social homes were built. 

I don’t doubt that the government wants to do better, and I don’t doubt that former housing minister Brandon Lewis – who effectively coined the statement that for every RTB home sold, a new one would be built – would have loved to have seen that pledge come true.

But evidence to the contrary seems all around.

Housing charity Peabody and the CBI, in a joint report, says a lack of social housing is forcing workers out of London and threatening its economic well-being. 

A BBC analysis this week showed that people spend more than a third of their disposable income on rent across large parts of England. 

And the Chartered Institute of Housing is warning that by 2020 (that’s little more than three years away) 370,000 council and housing association homes could be lost in England by RTB and other sell-offs.

So why – why on earth – is Right To Buy still being pursued in England? 

It’s time for the kingdom to be united on scrapping a policy that makes our housing crisis even worse.

*Editor of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today, Graham can be found tweeting all things property @PropertyJourn

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    Since ''ENGLAND'' is approx 85% economically of the UK - I would hardly describe it as ''Little'' England

    London itself has a larger economy than many Countries including: Norway Sweden Saudi, New Zealand, Ireland and a hec of a lot more.....

  • Claire  Empson

    I wholeheartedly agree with this - it's a shocking policy and needs to be scrapped asap, there are families in need, and previous social housing tenants are now turning landlord or making vast profits on their London ex local homes by selling them on at market value.. it's messed up Conservative thinking


    2 initial points;

    Families in need won't be any more helped by a council house being tenanted rather than owned. It will still be occupied.

    London is an anomoly. Please don't use it as an example of what policies we should set for the whole of our society, because that would be absurd.

    Onto my main points;

    What tenants do with their properties after they've bought them is wholely irrelevent to the issue of RTB. If local authorities did what they were supposed to do, managed their stock efficiently and engaged in a program of continuous and consistent building, then we'd have no problems. As it is, people such as yourself are using RTB as a political weapon to bash people who had the foresight and aspiration to buy their property, and quite rightly do what the hell they want with it. Basically the old 'you have something so should feel guilty for those that don't' mantra. THAT is messed up socialist thinking and virtue signalling nonsense. It says more about you than it does about anything to do with RTB in the real world.

    I was a council tenant in 2004 when the Labour Wakefield council actively and deliberately lied to tenants in order to manipulate a vote to sell off their housing stock. My rent went from £39 a week, to £74 overnight.

    The reason they gave for the sell off was to fund the regeneration of the city centre. In 2006 building started on the regeneration and then promptly stopped as they ran out of money (later revealed to be millions spent on consultancy fees). Private investment was found and the work completed in 2008. Last year, less than 10 years later, the regeneration sites are being sold off for private development as the regeneration has been a commercial failure (due to high business rates and the destroying of the previous thriving market and market house). On the other side of the city, a building that the council invested £4m into as an arts and leisure venue has gone into administration.

    The money from selling the council stock has gone up in smoke, the city centre has been ruined, and hundreds of small business owners who had plyed their trade for years have had their lives turned upside down. It's now down to the private sector to bail us out again. I've done my research.. there are countless examples of stuff like this up and down the country.

    Less than 3000 properties have been sold in Wakefield over the course of almost 40 years. So with everything I've just said, you tell me... how would the housing situation in Wakefield be helped in any significant measure if RTB had never exisited?

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    Absolute nonsense. Cutting people off at the knees for having a little aspiration will achieve what for our society? How will it help the housing stock? The people who would buy their homes under RTB will simply have to stay in them, the council will only get them back once the tenants are dead, or they have to move them into another property. Hardly a sustainable strategy.

    The housing stock hasn't fallen in any significant measure due to RTB, it has fallen due to the inefficiency of local authorities to handle their stock. They have failed massively to build new housing in any significant number and were bailed out of loss making situations by housing associations.

  • Matthew Payne

    The Tories only interest with this policy is to reduce the size of the state. Conservative policy has always been based on a free market economy, where the nanny state as they see it should be strictly limited. Having all this stock move into the private ownership achieves that. I dont see that it is reducing opportunity now for families that need it as there are fewer properties in the social housing sector. They wouldnt be able to move into any of the 2.5 million properties that were sold anyway, they were being occupied by the people who have now bought them.

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    • 30 December 2019 11:00 AM

    Govt simply hates the idea that anyone should have subsidised rental accommodation.
    Well so do I!!!
    But as a pragmatic realist I accept that there will always be the lower strata of society that require subsidies.
    Housing is but one of the services the State needs to provide to those who will NEVER be able to manage on their own.

    Therefore it must make sense to have sufficient subsidised social housing for those that need it.
    Selling it off is just too bonkers for words.
    As MacMillan said when the Tories started RTB selling off the 'family silver' was a very unwise thing to do.
    How correct he was!!!!
    Massive taxpayer subsidies were given to those who didn't deserve it and only received it because they happened to be a council tenant.
    I'm sure lots of private buyers would have loved a massive taxpayer subsidy to buy on the open market!!!
    But of course as private buyers never qualified for such.
    RTB is a national disgrace and should be banned across the whole UK.
    Subsidised social housing is required and should be built in MILLIONS.
    But no sign of that happening anytime soon!!


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