Watered down proposals to extend the right-to-buy to housing association tenants will still ‘fatally undermine’ councils’ abilities to deliver social housing, according to leading local government figures.
In a move described as a ‘back room’ deal, communities secretary Greg Clark last week announced the government’s intention not to legislate to extend the right-to-buy to housing associations if they agree to proposals put forward by the National Housing Federation (NHF).
According to the AJ’s sister publication, Local Government Chronicle, under the revised proposal there will be a presumption for housing associations to provide tenants with the right-to-buy but they could still block the sale of homes in areas where there are shortages of social housing.
If that happened, tenants would be offered the opportunity to purchase a property, or a stake in one, in another area instead.
The government plans to compensate housing associations for every home sold using funds raised through forcing councils to sell off their highest value housing stock.
The NHF’s 1,100 housing association members have until next Friday to decide whether they want to sign up to the deal. Chief executive David Orr said he was ‘confident’ members would see it as a ‘good proposal’.
Matthew Bennett, cabinet member for housing at Lambeth LBC, expressed his ‘outrage’ at the ‘backroom deal’ in a letter to Orr.
He said the policy would result in the borough losing 120 homes every year, the majority of which are family homes, and added: ‘Like many councils we thought the National Housing Federation was an ally in opposing these regressive changes, instead we discover you are an advocate for the loss of affordable housing.’
The government is due to publish a Housing Bill in October which will include any legislation needed to introduce the policy.
Bennett said the potential deal removed the opportunity for the policy to be fully scrutinised in parliament ‘where these proposals could and should be defeated’.
John Healey, Labour’s shadow minister for housing and planning, said the government’s planned right-to-buy extension was “looking increasingly chaotic”.
‘It looks like ministers are trying to strike a backroom deal with housing association landlords to deliver a policy which they fear they can’t deliver themselves,’ he said.
LGC has previously reported how the planned sell-off of high-priced local authority homes also risked derailing some of the largest council house building projects in England.
Tom Copley, chair of London Assembly’s housing committee, said: ‘The scheme will still be funded by forcing councils to sell their most expensive properties, and will fatally undermine the ability of councils to deliver much needed new social housing.
‘Wrecking council housing to fund a sell-off of housing association homes would be disastrous for London.’
Daniella Radice, assistant mayor for neighbourhoods at Bristol City Council, told LGC it was ‘disappointing’ councils would still be expected to fund the scheme.
A spokesman for the Local Government Association said giving housing associations more flexibility over how the extension of the right-to-buy is implemented was ‘helpful’ but added: ‘It is critical that councils are supported in a similar way to manage their assets and it is now important that councils have similar flexibilities and should be able to retain 100% of all receipts from sold assets locally so that they can quickly build replacement homes.’
Stephen Brown, director of the District Councils’ Network, said he wanted to talk to ministers and officials in a bid to ‘secure parity and fairness of treatment for all social landlords’.
The NHF have voluntarily come forward with a proposal
A DCLG spokesman said: ‘We want to help anyone who works hard and aspires to own their own home turn their dream into a reality.
‘The NHF have voluntarily come forward with a proposal, which the government will now consider.
‘Since 2012, councils have already delivered more than 3,000 homes through the reinvigorated right to buy scheme.’