Friday, 23 December 2011
The Right To Buy - Right Or Wrong?
Everyone is entitled to have somewhere they can call home, be it a flat, semi-detached or mansion. A home is the most expensive cost most of us meet in our lifetimes. Some people buy a home in the hope they can repay their mortgage over their working life while others prefer to rent from their local council or private landlords.
Council housing was originally provided for those who couldn't afford to buy because they didn't have the income to meet the demands of a mortgage company. Over the years it became apparent that some council house tenants had become more affluent and could afford to buy a property, but few left the security of good council landlords who kept their housing stock in good repair.
In those days we had nearly enough council housing for those who wanted to avoid unscrupulous private landlords and weren't in a position to consider purchasing a property. Until Margaret Thatcher had the great idea of selling council housing to resident tenants. Because councils never replaced purchase stock, within a few years their stocks had fallen drastically and they were left with the more undesirable properties. All over the UK housing was sold off with massive discounts and I knew more than a few people who managed to bend the qualification rules to acquire their parents' council properties.
Because local authorities' rental income was also greatly reduced, they had less to invest in the maintenance of their properties and thus the they fell into disrepair. Tenants were promised double glazing, upgraded insulation and a modern heating system but promises were postponed year after year. The local authorities in Scotland have made staunch efforts to upgrade homes in the past couple of decades, but they've been unable to build many because they lacked the capital.
In recent years Scotland has begun to build social housing but, sensibly, last year the Scottish government made amendments to the Right to Buy terms and ended the Right to Buy for new social housing and for new tenants. Another important alteration is that now councils can elect their 'pressured areas' and refuse to sell, whereas previously the government elected pressured areas. The Scottish government realised that building houses then selling them may provide jobs but the lack of affordable rented housing still remained.
Scotland appears to be getting its act together regarding social housing stock but what about England?
England appears to be taking an opposing view. Council tenants are to be offered increased discounts of up to £50,000 to buy their homes in a shake-up of the Right to Buy scheme. In some parts of England discounts could be trebled. The Westminster government are promoting this as 'part of a Government effort to ease the struggle and help some of the two million social tenants in England to buy the property they live in'.
It sounds fine and dandy, particularly when UK government ministers vow that 'any home bought under the scheme would be replaced by an affordable property for rent'.
The plan is to 'get the nation building again' - just as the Scottish government has done in the past few years. However, unless the new homes built in England are not exempt with legislation similar to Scotland's new housing stock, England will not resolve the problem of too few houses available. By offering larger discounts the remaining rentable stock will, quite probably, be of a poor quality as was found back in the 90s once the Act had been on the statue books a few years.
There is no shortage of private or privately rented housing in this area. The need for social housing is minimal in comparison with the big cities.
Several private developments are still trying to sell properties - although most are in the £180,000 plus bracket - yet my local council continues to give them permission to build more estates. Regular readers will know there is one private estate being built within a stone's throw of my home and planning permission was granted because the builder agreed, as per legislation, that 25% of the homes would be social housing provided through a housing association. Last month we were told that the second housing association, which had shown interest, had withdrawn. The first one withdrew shortly after the diggers moved in. The reason given to local residents was that neither housing association had enough capital to invest in the project. Eighteen large homes have now been completed and not one has been sold. The social housing, I was informed by the site manager, will be the last to be completed. That was always the case.
Surely where there is a need for social housing - and I'm sure there is one in varying degrees throughout the UK - developers ought to be building those first? Or is it a sake of hoping that no housing association is ever able to invest and thus the developers will have what they really wanted - an estate full of private housing?
Note: Observer, one of my regular readers, is highly qualified in all aspects of social housing in Scotland. I would ask you to please read any response she makes in the comments and may I offer her my apologies for any inaccuracies in the post.