An influential committee of MPs has today [10 February] warned that a plan to give housing association tenants the right to buy their homes could reduce the amount of affordable housing available across the country.
The Communities & Local Government Committee, which took evidence from Cllr Lib Peck, Leader of Lambeth Council, also said the proposal to extend the Right to Buy to tenants of all social housing should be “funded by central Government, rather than through a levy on local authorities”.
Under the Government’s proposals, housing association tenants who take up their Right to Buy will be offered a discount – funded by the sale of “high-value” council homes. But a report from the Committee, published today, claimed the discount could leave local authorities short of the money needed to build replacement council homes.
Cllr Peck told the Committee at a hearing in November that the proposal amounted to “taxing a public authority like a council to pay for a private individual to enjoy the right to their own home”.
She added: “Now, I have no problem with people exercising their Right to Buy, but I do have a problem with a formula that takes away our ability, as a local authority, to build or negotiate around affordable housing, and actually makes the situation of supply even worse.”
The Committee’s report, published today, found that “Councils … need to be able to retain sufficient funding from the sales if they are to build new homes to replace those sold”.
Committee chairman, Clive Betts MP, said: “The fundamental success of this policy will depend not just on whether more tenants come to own their home but on whether more homes are built. As a Committee, we are concerned that there are a number of unresolved issues with the Government’s policy which could have a detrimental effect on the provision of accessible and affordable housing, particularly affordable rented property.
“The Governments needs to set out in more detail on how it will meet its target of at least one-for-one replacement of the sold homes, particularly given issues such as the availability of land, the capacity of the building industry and the uncertainty of income from council home sales.”
The report also said that “large numbers of homes sold through the statutory right to buy for council tenants have quickly become private sector rental properties”. The Committee quoted research showing that, in 2003, 21 per cent of properties in Lambeth bought under the RTB three years earlier were no longer owner-occupied.
The report quoted Cllr Peck’s warning about the lack of available land to build more homes in London.
She told the Committee: “We are a very densely populated borough, so we do not have huge tracts of land yet to be built on, really.
“That is an issue, and we are working increasingly closely with some of the other public agencies where we think there is some potential—for example, the health service, the fire service and the police service—and looking at the public sector London estate.”
The Government has announced that it would “review the use of lifetime tenancies in social housing to limit their use … and ensure the best use is made of the social housing stock”.
The report said Cllr Peck had told them that: “We have talked a lot about housing as a building concept, but we are talking really about creating places and creating communities, and therefore you need an element of stability.”
The Communities and Local Government Committee report, “Housing associations and the Right to Buy”, is available here:
The Committee press release is here: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/communities-and-local-government-committee/news-parliament-2015/right-to-buy-report-published-15-16/
Cllr Peck appeared before the Committee on Monday, 16 November 2015. Her evidence is here: http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/communities-and-local-government-committee/the-housing-association-sector-and-the-right-to-buy/oral/24630.pdf