Real Estate

The damaging policy of Britain’s right-to-buy policy | Letters

Lynsey Hanley’s article on right to buy and its nefarious implications for the housing crisis makes good points (From Thatcher to Johnson: how right to buy has fuelled a 40-year housing crisis, 29 June). The policy has indeed been a disaster, with socially divisive effects, not to mention contributing to the Tory vote. There are two things that she did not mention that are worth considering. The first is the way that a large public housing sector reined in the private sector. Public housing was relatively cheap and private landlords had to compete or go out of business, which many did, though rent control also contributed.

Second, the reason why it was relatively cheap is misunderstood. Certainly, there were government subsidies, but the big advantage came from elsewhere. In many local authorities, council housing was built over several decades. Earlier builds were cheaper, but the rents on later builds were held down through what was, in effect, a subsidy from tenants of the earlier vintages, who were still getting their housing cheap. Unlike private rental housing, council housing was never sold, so rents did not have to reflect the general increase in land costs.
Kevin R Cox
Columbus, Ohio, US

One negative effect of right to buy is rarely mentioned – the disappearance of rural social housing. There used to be little pockets of council housing in even the most well-heeled rural areas, as farm workers needed somewhere to live and most tied cottages (owned by landowners and restricted to farm workers) vanished long ago. But right to buy meant that rural council housing vanished and was not replaced. The shortage of social housing is a scandal, and it is even worse in rural areas, so young people leave, exacerbating the inequalities between urban and rural.
Richard Hull
Frome, Somerset

Lynsey Hanley highlights that while right to buy has been profitable for some former tenants and private landlords, the policy has also reduced the stock of quality rented accommodation because local authorities have not been allowed to replace those houses. It doesn’t have to be like that. When my parents died and we inherited the family home that they had bought under the right-to-buy scheme, we shunned the circling landlords and sold the house back to the council for a small profit. Now, a young family lives there. I suppose one day the house will end up in the private sector, but those landlords will have to wait a few more years.
Mike Padgett
Sancton, East Yorkshire

When my elderly aunt downsized in the late 1980s, she was able to use a fairer right-to-buy scheme via South Cambridgeshire district council, whereby she could purchase only 75% of a small council bungalow in Sawston. When she died a few years later, her relatives had to sell it back to the council, which gave it a fair valuation, and then the property went back into its stock. Relatives made a profit on the 75%, and then the property went to another elderly buyer on the council’s list.

I recognise that this still leaves out people who couldn’t afford even the 75% price, but it seemed at least more reasonable than allowing housing stock to go totally into private ownership. Why didn’t other councils protect their stock with a scheme like this?
Pam Connellan
Great Shelford, Cambridgeshire

I agree with Lynsey Hanley’s analysis, but it gives an incomplete picture of Labour government measures in saying “Labour formally abandoned its opposition to the policy in the mid-1980s”. Here in Wales, a Labour government has abolished right to buy and we are hopeful that this enlightened move will start to claw back some of the damage done to our housing stock over the last 40 years. If the people of England want to see the same changes, they need to vote in a Labour government.
Rob Thomas
Brecon, Powys

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