Return of Right to Buy receives hostile reception

Talk of Boris Johnson bringing back the Right to Buy scheme so tenants can buy housing association properties at a discount has received a hostile response from large swathes of the industry and the press.

The proposals – echoing Margaret Thatcher’s introduction of Right to Buy in 1980 – were actually first announced by David Cameron in 2015, but the idea was shelved the following year.

Even Melissa Lawford of The Telegraph, traditionally a right leaning publication, seemed unimpressed with the proposal.

She wrote: “Another round of fire sales to tenants will bring severe consequences for landlords, taxpayers, renters and the housing market.

“Landlords should be worried because there will be an inevitable negative impact. If social housing is sold, there will be less of it. Of course, it should be replaced, but history proves that it simply won’t be.

“This matters for Britain’s buy-to-let investors because the shortage of affordable housing is already so acute, landlords get caught in the crossfire.”

“When there is not enough social housing, there is no real safety net for the families whose finances are getting ruined by inflation and the cost of living crisis.

“If they default on their rent payments or are evicted by a private landlord, they face homelessness.

“Councils have therefore increasingly advised tenants to the only pathetic protection our system offers – a legal right to stay in a property until they are evicted by a bailiff.”

Jonn Elledge, writing for The New Statesman, suggests this is the announcement of a government that has run out of ideas.

He questioned whether it would actually attract more Tory voters, especially as most people desperate to buy are private tenants, not those in housing association.

He wrote: “The return of this failed Cameron-era policy is a reminder of the fact that, when it comes to actual policy, the cupboard is now entirely bare.”

He added: “It won’t do anything to address the real causes of falling home ownership, either (ever-higher prices, ever-larger deposits, the rise of buy-to-let and so on).

“Bluntly, the people who want to buy homes but can’t are overwhelmingly private tenants, not housing association ones; yet the government seems oddly shy of finding ways of forcing private landlords to sell to first-time buyers at a discount, even though its commitment to property rights is clearly wobbling.”

David Alexander, the chief executive officer of estate agent DJ Alexander Scotland, argued that the policy would only exacerbate problems that already exist in the market.

He said: “Interestingly, it was the sale of council housing in the 1980’s that led directly to the substantial growth of the private rented sector. The sale of social housing only exacerbated the need for more housing as demand continued to exceed supply.

“This policy will only work if the funds gained from social housing sales are reinvested in more social housing rather than simply absorbed into other government spending.

“But there is little doubt that Boris Johnson has touched a nerve with this idea. Home ownership undoubtedly scratches an itch, a desire among the electorate to be homeowners and the discount to make it more affordable to a wider population.

“But caution is required as selling social housing needs to be matched with the building of more social housing supply. At the same time support for the private rented sector is also required as there are many who don’t want to buy for a variety of reasons.

“For those workers from the EU and elsewhere, for professionals moving around to further their career, and for the retired who might wish to sample a different lifestyle then the private rented sector remains a key option and is an essential part of the housing mix.”

It remains to be seen whether the government presses on with the introduction of Right to Buy.

Rather than being a vote winner it seems just as divisive of Margaret Thatcher, the original architect of the policy.

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