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Right to buy extension to boost rental sector

Right to Buy, introduced by Mrs. Thatcher’s Government in 1979, formalised what up until then, had been an option offered by local authorities. Councils could choose not to sell their properties, particularly in areas of high demand and little availability. That changed with the Right to Buy. Tenants could enjoy the benefits of home ownership with massive discounts on the price. Over the years, huge numbers of council properties have been sold, waiting lists have grown and the private rental sector has had to be relied upon to meet the shortfalls that have arisen.

This situation looks set to worsen with the announcement in the Queen’s Speech at the end of May that this will now be extended to housing association tenants. The campaigns to keep some controls over this have already started. Social landlords have great concerns about how this will affect future funding bids, fearing that they are less likely to be able to raise funds to build new properties which could be sold off at discount. Though they are having to accept this will happen, they are urging the Government to extend the Right to Acquire, rather than Right to Buy. If they succeed in this, there would be no need for further primary legislation and properties built or bought by a housing association before 31st March 1997 would be exempt.

Co-incidentally, there was recently an item on BBC’s ‘The One Show’ about this very subject. The examples they gave were in Manchester. From 2012 to now, 17,000 social properties have been sold. They have been replaced by only 3,000 new properties. The loss of 14,000 social properties is difficult to justify, given the length of waiting lists, the financial climate which has created difficulties for people that 20 years ago, would have been buying their own properties. Two families were shown in the item – one who was the happy tenant of a social property and would buy it; the other was a private tenant, who lived in the same development but was paying £600 rent – double that of her housing association counter-part. One dreamt of buying his property, the other of becoming a social tenant. Is it possible to achieve a balance with these two opposing positions?

The Campaign to Protect Rural England is combining with housing associations with properties in rural areas, seeing them as a special case that must be exempted from the Right to Buy/Right to Acquire. There is a desperate need for affordable housing in rural areas if these areas are to survive. Without affordable housing, young families are forced to leave the areas their families have lived and died in for generations. Whether it will be possible to include these exclusions is difficult to say and at present, the detail seems to be lacking.

Private Sector landlords will be needed for a long time to come if these plans go ahead. It is not sufficient to sell the social housing in 2016 and not replace until 2020. Perhaps if re-building takes so long, private tenants will start to appreciate the properties which the private sector has provided for so long.