Baroness Gardner: Public needs to know what Right to Buy means for now and the future
Conservative peer Baroness Gardner considers how the Government’s proposed extension of Right to Buy will impact on councils and housing associations.
The Government proposal to introduce the Right to Buy for tenants of housing association properties is controversial and many who have worked to provide social housing over long years are concerned that these homes, particularly if heavily discounted, will be irreplaceable.
My question tabled for 9 June 2015, is to emphasise the need for wide consultation with different groups, housing associations, local authorities and the general public.
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It seems that local authorities will be called upon to meet the cost of the discounts proposed for the purchasers. They are hard pressed now to meet the costs of providing services whilst doing their best to prevent major increases in council tax charges. I have no doubt they will make their position clear.
For some years I was a member of a housing committee on my local council and an Area Housing Chairman for the Greater London Council. This is history. We need to take into account the lessons we have learnt from the sale of council houses, a policy I strongly supported when introduced. Today too many of these homes are for rent, owned by “buy to let” investors. There is a great incentive for social tenants to buy at a favourable discount - to cash in at the earliest resale opportunity.
I am hearing from people who bought at the time of the first sales - who are now in great financial difficulty. These leaseholders were not required to make any contribution to a “sinking fund” for maintenance of the structure of the blocks in which they live. Having bought for about £10,000 they now, as leaseholders, face bills for their part of major block repairs, of over £12,000, payable on demand. As they have only a basic state pension, they cannot find such money. There are many in this position. The general public need to understand exactly what the proposals mean now and for the future. There is a real need for information and consultation in advance of legislation.
Housing associations say that the money they would receive could not be enough for them to replace their housing stock on which so many people depend. This is a general statement from most housing associations. They are mainly charitable bodies and some such as the Peabody Trust have been in operation for over 150 years. If their continuity is not secured, we will be losing a priceless asset. There should be no way in which these properties can be sold on to investors for a “buy to let” usage as is happening to so many council properties now.
Those particular housing associations providing special facilities for disabled people, have additional expenses to provide the necessary adaptations and if these properties can be simply sold on to anyone, an irreplaceable and valuable facility will be lost. I consider that such properties, should have conditions attached whereby a similarly disabled person, in need of the special features of the property would have priority at a time of re-sale.
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