With the Conservatives now in government alone, one of the key policies it will seek to implement is the extension of ‘right to buy’ to Housing Association homes. Quite how a government which masquerades as the defender of ‘freedom’ and ‘free enterprise’ envisages forcing private companies to sell their housing stock, at a big discount, is difficult to imagine.

If another party had said it would introduce ‘right to buy’ into the private rented sector the Tories and much of the media would have been outraged. They would have denounced such a policy as theft, or even worse, ‘socialism’. How can you force somebody to sell off their private property? they would no doubt have raged.

It seems certain that Housing Associations will challenge the legality of such a proposal. However, whether legal or not there needs to be a campaign against it because it is a policy which will make the housing crisis worse.

The other part of the policy, according to the Conservative Manifesto and press reports, is that local authorities will be forced to sell off their ‘higher value’ homes (those in the ‘top 30%’ by value in each area) when they become vacant in order to pay towards the difference between the income a Housing Association would get for the sale of each home and its market value. This really is expropriation of local authority assets in order to pay for the selling off of homes of entirely separate organisations.

The sale of Council housing on the open market is supposed to fund

  • compensating Housing Associations for the difference between the sell price and the market value;

  • building a replacement Council home for the one sold, and

  • a new Brownfield building fund.

Anybody with a rudimentary grasp of maths will know that it is impossible to spread so little money three ways.

This policy would have a drastic affect on both Housing Associations and Councils. The former have borrowed money from private sources and the money has been lent on the basis of estimates of the value of their stock and their rental income. Similarly Council’s ‘business plans’ on which the ‘one off debt settlement’ was based, estimated the rental income over 30 years. Being forced to sell off more homes would undermine the planned income stream from rents and the financial ability of Councils to maintain and improve their stock.

Swindon Tenants Campaign Group opposes this destructive policy and will campaign against it together with other tenant organisations. It would increase the shortage of genuinely affordable homes to rent and cut the stock available for people on the housing waiting lists . It is a policy which can only exacerbate the housing crisis.

The magazine Inside Housing has recently put in a Freedom of Information Request for a DCLG document examining the economic consequences of the extension of ‘right to buy’. They have refused the request. What could they possibly have to hide?

Martin Wicks

Secretary, Swindon Tenants Campaign Group

This is an article for the Total News Swindon website