From The Guardian
Government ministers and housing association leaders have negotiated a deal that, if accepted, would effectively push through controversial plans to extend the right-to-buy policy without parliamentary scrutiny.
Under the proposed deal, ministers would abandon plans to legislate for an extension of the right-to-buy scheme to 1.2m housing association homes. In return, housing associations would voluntarily agree to sell their homes to any tenants who wished to buy them.
The proposed deal was announced by the communities secretary, Greg Clark, and the National Housing Federation (NHF) boss, David Orr, in Birmingham on Thursday and has to be agreed by Britain’s 1,400 housing associations in the next eight days.
Having a voluntary agreement will allow ministers to sidestep a damaging political row over the policy at Westminster. The proposal – an unabashed extension of the flagship Thatcherite right-to-buy policy – was a centrepiece of the Tory general election manifesto.
Under the Conservative plans, housing association tenants were to be given the right to buy their home at a discount of up to £100,000, in line with existing right-to-buy arrangements for local authority homes.
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “We want to help anyone who works hard and aspires to own their own home turn their dream into a reality. The NHF have voluntarily come forward with a proposal, which the government will now consider.
“Since 2012, councils have already delivered more than 3,000 homes through the reinvigorated right-to-buy scheme.”
Housing association leaders believe a voluntary deal will guarantee their independence as charities and private housing providers, and head off a full-scale battle with government, which has been critical in recent weeks of association performance and efficiency.
In a notably conciliatory address to the NHF conference on Thursday, Clark praised associations and promised that an agreement would not contradict their historical mission of housing poor people.
He told the conference: “Your tenants share the same hopes and dreams as everyone else. They live in the same towns, their children go to the same schools, they have the same ambitions for themselves and their families. They should be given the same opportunity, if they want it, to own their home.
“There is no reason why signing a tenancy agreement with a housing association should mean signing away your aspirations to be a homeowner.”
Orr described the proposed deal as “a defining moment in our relationship with government”, but there were mixed views within the housing association movement.
Right to buy: views from the social housing sector
There had been fears that putting association right to buy into law would lead to the bodies, many of which are registered charities, being reclassified as public assets, adding an estimated £60bn to public debt.
The proposed deal would guarantee that associations were fully compensated for every home sold to tenants, enabling them to build replacements on a one-for-one basis.
Associations would have the discretion to block sales of homes where there were shortages of social housing, such as in rural areas, although those tenants would be given a cash voucher to put towards buying an association property elsewhere.
However, the deal would not remove the requirement for the government to fund the expected multibillion pound cost of right-to-buy discounts. Ministers currently propose to finance the discounts by forcing councils to sell off their most valuable social homes when tenants move out. This could significantly deplete stocks of affordable housing in high-cost areas, such as inner London.
The housing and homelessness charity Shelter said the deadline was too soon. “Offering just one week to decide something that will dramatically alter access to affordable housing in this country is unacceptable,” its chief executive, Campbell Robb, said.
“We need to see further detail before making a full judgement, but the bottom line is that something this big needs serious consideration … What matters here are the millions of people suffering at the hands of our housing shortage and rushing a decision through is simply not in their best interests.
“We need the government to come up with a well thought-out and comprehensive plan that can actually deliver the genuinely affordable homes we desperately need, not more piecemeal schemes.”
The deal was also criticised by the opposition. The shadow housing minister, John Healey, said: “It looks like ministers are trying to strike a backroom deal with housing association landlords to deliver a policy which they fear they can’t deliver themselves.
“It is being rushed to fit their political timetable ahead of Conservative party conference, when it should have been announced in parliament.”
The Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, said: “Forcing right to buy on housing associations was a stupid policy before the election, it remains a stupid policy now… If the Tories are serious about tackling a national emergency like housing they should take immediate action to allow councils to borrow funds to build the homes we desperately need.”