The government’s Social Housing Green Paper has sneaked in, with no fanfare, the possibility of a new programme of transferring council housing to housing associations.
In England under the Tories there has been a loss of 184,000 council homes up to the end of the 2016/17 financial year. In her foreword to the Social Housing Green Paper May says the government is committed to “building a new generation of council homes”. Indeed she says that the Green paper “will provide a further boost to the number of council houses.” However, tucked away in Paragraph 81 of the Green Paper in a chapter ostensibly about “empowering residents” we find this:
“We are considering a new stock transfer programme to promote the transfer of local authority housing particularly to community-based housing associations. Would there be interest in a programme to promote the transfer of local authority housing, particularly to community-based housing associations? What would it need to make it work? ”
It’s almost as if they smuggled it in here in the hope that people wouldn’t notice. There is no reference to it in May’s preface, the Housing Secretary’s comments, or the Executive Summary.
Stock transfer, posed as tenant ‘choice’ was introduced by the Tories but reached its high point under New Labour. The programme of transfer was ended, at least on a large scale, when the economic crash led the New Labour government to decide that they could no longer afford debt write-off. Cancelling the debt had been the inducement to persuade tenants to vote for transfer since it meant that housing associations would have more money to invest in stock whilst councils would be allowed nothing. A parliamentary committee described this as blackmail. The motivation for Gordon Brown was that council housing debt was removed from the public sector borrowing requirement. Of course, they could have cancelled the debt for councils but that would have been contrary to New Labour’s prejudice against council housing.
Under the Tories from 2010 there were a small number of transfers though the government was not prepared to offer a general debt write-off, so transfers dried up.
So why has the government floated this idea now? There is no detail attached to this tentative proposal in the Green Paper. We are presented with a single paragraph with no explanation.
Whether serious or not it is an idea we need to kill off before it is introduced into a White Paper as a definite proposal. To the question “Would there be interest in a programme to promote the transfer of local authority housing…” supporters of council housing need to give a decisive answer, NO.
The government cannot both “provide a further boost to the number of council homes” and transfer them to housing associations. This is sheer hypocrisy.
The deadline for responses is November 6th. Emails should be sent to SocialHousingGreenPaper@communities.gsi.gov.uk