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Right to buy a future?

From this summer social housing tenants in Scotland no longer have the right to buy their homes. The question now is whether the rest of the UK should follow Scotland’s lead.

For anyone trying to get on the property ladder the future looks bleak. With the lack of new housing and salary growth at an all-time low, the average UK house price stands at a record £211,230 in May 2016. In England, the average is even higher at £227,000. The accepted wisdom is now that there is an affordability crisis in the South East of England which is spreading to other parts of the country. In Greater Manchester home ownership has fallen by 14.5%, with similar areas in Outer London falling by 13.5%. Surely it is therefore a bad idea to scrap this Government scheme which offers social housing tenants discounts of just over £100,000 in London and around £78,000 outside London?

It cannot be argued that the discounts offered through this scheme are not generous. They are extremely generous. It must be a great relief for the majority of social housing tenants who exercise their right to buy to be able to own the home they expect to live in for their lifetime, but not all properties purchased through this scheme are being lived in by the purchasing tenant. The Communities and Local Government Committee has calculated that around 40% of ex-council flats in the UK sold through right to buy are being rented out more expensively and managed poorly by private landlords. This was not the scheme’s intended purpose. Furthermore, a Freedom of Information Act request by Inside Housing has revealed that out of the £1bn raised since 2012 to replace right to buy properties, £27.3m of it has been used to buy back homes already sold under right to buy at full price.

However is it morally right to provide financial assistance to enable a particular group of tenants to own their own homes whilst at the same time ignoring other tenants that have no chance of doing the same? Does the Government have any solid housing plans for those long-term renters that cannot save enough money for a deposit, or for those on the ever increasing social housing waiting lists and, most pressingly of all, the increasing numbers of homelessness?

Abolishing the right to buy in Scotland has already projected approximately 15,500 more homes available for social renting. Following Scotland’s lead will no doubt increase the number of homes available for low rents. This in turn might help regulate the soaring rents in the private sector. This has to be a step in the right direction.