The county council’s Labour administration has raised concerns about the pressures the Government’s proposed extension to the Right to Buy policy will place on social housing in Northumberland.
The legislation, part of the Housing and Planning Bill, would give housing-association tenants the opportunity to buy their own home. They could get a discount of up to £73,000 – an option previously only open to council tenants.
To compensate housing associations for having to sell their houses at below market value, councils who own and manage housing will be required to sell their ‘high-value’ council properties as they become vacant and transfer the proceeds over to the housing associations, a move councillors say will place extra pressure on an already heavily-subscribed housing waiting list.
The Government has promised that for every housing-association home sold under the scheme a replacement home will be built.
Leader of Northumberland County Council, Coun Grant Davey, said: “I think the policy has been ill-thought-out and is illogical. Together with other local housing authorities and the Local Government Association, we have raised our concerns with the Government.
“It is difficult to see how the proceeds of the council-house sales will be sufficient to compensate the housing associations and the likely high cost of building like-for-like replacement homes. The new homes promised under the plan can simply not be met through the sale of council homes alone.
Coun Davey added that the policy was counterproductive, saying: “The policy would choke the supply of new homes across Northumberland at the very time we are battling a severe housing shortage. Far from helping families onto the housing ladder, it will leave access to an affordable home further out of reach for many families.”
Coun Allan Hepple, cabinet member for housing, expressed his concern that the policy would lead to a reduction in social housing.
“If this legislation is approved we are in very real danger of seeing housing associations withdraw from social housing provision in future and this will impact heavily on our ability to meet the housing needs of our community. Councils too are unlikely to build new homes.
“While we support the principle of Right to Buy, selling council-owned housing to compensate housing associations for discounts they have to offer, is unfair to those councils, such as Northumberland County Council that have retained their own housing stock and offer good services to their tenants.
“The lack of affordable housing is one of the biggest issues facing young people and families in Northumberland. This policy could lead to a further shortage of affordable rented housing especially in rural villages where three and four-bedroom properties which are available to rent are incredibly scarce.”
The Government has a different view though. Launching a pilot scheme in January, Communities Secretary, Greg Clark said: “Anybody who works hard and aspires to own their own home should have the opportunity to realise their dream. The Right to Buy is central to that and has already helped more than 46,000 into home-ownership since we reinvigorated the scheme in 2012.
“Thanks to the historic voluntary agreement with the sector a further 1.3million housing-association tenants now have the chance to open the door to their own home, starting with this trailblazing pilot scheme.”