Time To End The Fetish For Home Ownership And Right To Buy

30/09/2016 11:53

There are not enough homes to meet demand in much of the UK, and the tragedy is that despite recent fine words, Government policy still seems on course to keep it that way.

With depressing lack of vision, ministers continue encouraging council and housing association tenants to buy their homes at a discount; forcing local authorities to sell their best stock to pay for it under the Right to Buy legislation, whilst the Help to Buy scheme has worked primarily to prop up already high prices.

There is nothing wrong with home ownership, of course. But it isn't the only way to put a roof over people's heads. With unfortunate timing, the Right to Buy project has left the two main providers of social housing for low rent demotivated from building new stock, just as renting is becoming more widely accepted, and indeed promoted by the Government.

In addition, there is an unreasonable expectation on private developers to take up the slack. They won't. Private developers, who have shareholders and employees and their own survival to focus on, will always and quite properly search for profits and sales. They are not in the business of building to meet the social needs of wider society.

The extension of the Right to Buy scheme championed by George Osborne, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, has sapped the morale of local authorities and housing associations, who should instead have been made a key part of the drive to provide more housing.

In theory, a home sold by a council should be replaced. But that isn't happening. The Government's own statistics show that 13,000 council homes had been sold at a discount under Right to Buy this year. But only 2,200 council houses have been built. In other words, only one in six homes sold has been replaced.

Shelter, the campaigning housing charity, estimates that only one in eight of the 312,000 homes sold under Right to Buy, Help to Buy and Help to Buy: Shared Ownership since 2010 has been replaced.

So, whilst it was good to hear the housing minister Gavin Barwell more or less acknowledge recently that David Cameron's focus on home ownership has been diluted, sales should in fact be paused completely until the like-for-like replacement policy can be seen to be working.

His speech may represent an encouraging change of emphasis, but the plain truth is that the UK cannot meet its housing needs if Government ignores the vital role that must be played by councils and Housing Associations.

Successive governments have left the housing ladder in many parts of the country as more of a sheer rock face: impossible to get on to let alone climb. When key workers with good salaries, such as doctors, struggle to find a family home they can afford in London, there really is a very severe problem.

Outside of London and the South East, where housing is considerably more affordable, Government must work harder to create employment and desirable communities that spread the focus of housing demand. The private rented sector also needs to be made more attractive to both renters and long term institutional investors.

There are about 28 million residential properties in the UK, of which some five million are either in the social or affordable housing category. This is not a small part of the market, but in other comparable countries the percentage is larger.

The Government must do more to keep local authorities, housing associations and institutional investors in the business of providing affordable homes for rent, whilst also doing everything possible to assist and encourage private developers to increase their output of new homes to buy. The fetish for home ownership, embodied in the Right to Buy legislation, has had its day, and should be repealed.