Black’s Blog - Right to Buy

Black's Blog - Right to Buy

When Wendy Alexander was the Scottish Communities Minister, she proposed to give housing association tenants the Right to Buy. I was at the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations at the time. Along with many colleagues and my boss David Orr, now at the National Housing Federation, we fought it off. Or at least, we watered the proposals down.

David has another fight on his hands now. In England the Right to Buy still offers discounts of up to £103,900 in London, and £77,900 elsewhere. The maximum discount is 70%.1 Discounts for flats start at 50%. If the Conservatives succeed in their plan, housing associations could see their capital assets disappear swiftly, and also the rental income with which they finance their borrowing.

Many if not all of these organisations have been built up by the efforts of voluntary board members and have transformed communities. Many have found sustainable ways of providing low cost ownership options alongside their core business if affordable social rents. Did they put in all that effort so that a political party - any political party - could buy some votes?

Bizarrely, councils are expected to sell off their most valuable assets to finance this new right to buy - for housing associations. I’m not sure that stacks up, however you do the sums.

I watched Ed Miliband condemn the Conservative proposal for being improbably funded. I did not see him condemn the idea itself, and as far as I am aware, none of the major UK parties have any plans to abolish or seriously modify the right to buy.

I am by no means sure that forcing independent, voluntary non profit organisations to sell off their hard won assets at a massive discount will be easy. I think the National Federation and everyone else with any sense will put up a serious fight. I wish them luck, because none of this is good for homeless people, or the people struggling with high private sector rents. Mr Cameron should think again.


Councillor Jimmy Black is a former Convener of Housing at Dundee City Council, and was Head of Media at the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations in the 1990s. He writes here in a personal capacity.

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