You Can't See The Join

Whatever happened to joined-up housing policy?

While the spotlight has been on Help To Buy there has been next to no attention on another government scheme to foster private home ownership.

It's the Right To Buy system under which some local authority and housing association tenants can purchase flats and houses.

Right to Buy? Is it still going? The answer is Yes - with a vengeance.

In the quarter from April to June inclusive this year, the latest period for which data is available, English councils sold 2,149 homes under Right To Buy. This is almost five times the 443 sold in the same quarter last year.

The councils concerned received £129m from Right to Buy in the April to June quarter with the average capital receipt (local authority jargon for the sale price once discounts and costs are taken into consideration) being £60,000 per property.

The Scottish government collects its figures in a different way but for the financial year 2012-13, the latest data available, it sold 1,020 council flats and houses. Meanwhile in Wales 426 socially-rented properties were sold and became private homes in 2012-13.

The arguments for and against tenants buying social housing have been aired ad nauseum and I am not going over them again here.

But there is surely something not very joined-up here?

Governments across the UK are on the one hand spending public money, as guarantees if not as direct subsidies, on Funding For Lending and Help To Buy to indirectly encourage more private house building to supply purchasers.

Yet on the other hand those administrations - of different political hues - are also allowing existing public housing to be purchased, sometimes at a substantial market discount.

And the Westminster government’s own figures show that in quarter one of 2013 there were 55,310 households in temporary accommodation ranging from B&Bs to hostels or short-term leased private stock - yet at the same time the Right To Buy figures above suggest around a sell-off of 8,000 council or housing association homes in the current financial year.

This is quite aside from the lack of joined up thinking with Help To Buy. Its modus operandi is to help reduce the deposit burden for prospective buyers seeking mortgages - while, at the same time, the Bank of England’s new chairman says when there is any sign of a house price bubble he will act to reduce the availability of low deposit mortgages.

These are not party political points. In fact quite the reverse - no political party appears to have even spotted the inconsistencies and contradictions.

But in a nation where one of the few cross-party shared beliefs is that there are too few homes for the number of households, don’t we simply deserve a more coherent housing policy than this?

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