Paul Kershaw, Unite housing workers chair
Jack Jeffrey’s article on the Tories’ threats to introduce ‘Right to Buy’ for housing associations mentions that the idea has been mooted previously (see ‘Tories talk up social housing sell-off’).
In fact, it has been suggested in 2005, 2015, 2019 and 2022, but none of the previous attempts came to much. I think there are a few fundamental reasons for this.
First, few workers have enough money or job security to afford to buy their housing association home, even at a discount.
Also, levelling-up secretary Michael Gove says there is no new money for the plans. Therefore, no government compensation for the housing associations. The banks, which finance these property giants, would not like that.
Similarly, housing associations are private institutions. For the government to force them to offer discounts selling off property would mean being at odds with rich investors, not something the Tories like to do!
There was a trial of Right to Buy in housing associations a year or two ago. The official evaluation found there were just under 1,900 sales, with an average discount of £65,000 at a cost of £124 million to the government.
It estimated that 224,000 housing association homes would be sold across the country over ten years if no limits were placed on demand. Based on the same average discount, that would make the cost to the government, for compensating the housing associations, a cool £14.6 billion. You could build a good number of council homes for that. Not that the government would!
Like Jack pointed out in his article, the announcement is likely to be an empty call to buy some popularity among Tory backbenchers. Still, it remains for us to fight for council homes for the 4.2 million people in need of social housing in England.