A Swindon Borough Council spokesperson quoted in the Advertiser (Number of council houses sold increases over five years) said:
“Broadly speaking we have replaced our sold stock with new build and acquired existing properties.”
This is simply untrue. The number of council homes in June of this year was 10,335. This is around 170 less than six years ago. It is true that the numbers have increased by 58 since 2016/17. There are two reasons for that. Firstly, 28 homes owned by the General Fund were transferred to the Housing Revenue Account in return for the garages being transferred the other way. Secondly, the council decided to spend £17 million of reserves from the Housing Revenue Account on buying properties on the market, mostly ex-council housing, in which they are placing homeless families. Isn’t it ironic that they are buying back homes they have previously sold on the cheap and having to pay the market rate for them.
The £17 million was money intended for use on existing housing stock. Obviously the bought properties will bring in extra rent but as a result of government policies there is an estimated shortage of funds for renewal of existing stock (replacement of key housing components like central heating, bathrooms, kitchens, roof etc) of around £80 million over the next ten years.
Of course, something needs to be done to resolve the homelessness situation. But it cannot be resolved without a return to a council house building programme on a scale which significantly increases the stock available. Even if the council was replacing each home sold, which it is not, that would only produce a standstill position at a time when the population of the town is increasing. It’s true that there needs to be a change of policy on the national level to fund a large scale building programme. Unfortunately the council’s ruling group is not calling for such a change. It still supports the government’s RTB policy.
Labour’s policy of suspending RTB is a step forward. It would be even better if they committed to ending it. The policy financially benefits the individuals who buy the homes but it has had disastrous social consequences. It is one of the main causes of the housing crisis.
Secretary, Swindon Tenants Campaign Group
This is a letter to the Swindon Advertiser