‘Right to buy’ council homes to be scrapped

Nicola Sturgeon is expected to announce the move today. Picture: Greg Macvean
Nicola Sturgeon is expected to announce the move today. Picture: Greg Macvean
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A LINE is to be drawn under one of Margaret Thatcher’s most iconic policies after SNP ministers yesterday announced the abolition of Scottish council tenants’ “right to buy”.

People living in social housing will have until the autumn of 2017 to apply to buy their home at a reduced rate – an offer which nearly half-a-million families in Scotland have opted to take up since it was introduced in 1980 by the then-­Conservative government.

The deal was seen as one of the lynchpins of the Thatcher revolution, giving tenants in council and some housing association homes the right to buy and so turning millions of Britons into homeowners for the first time. Many were able to sell their houses on at a profit.

However, the Scottish Government has targeted the policy for several years, warning that there cannot be any more depletion of the social housing stock, with more than 400,000 people on the waiting list.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced yesterday that, while the right to buy will continue across the rest of the UK, the offer would finish in Scotland after a three-year grace period, once the SNP government’s new Housing Bill was given Royal Assent this autumn.

The decision was slammed by the Scottish Tories last night, who claimed the policy had freed people who were otherwise “trapped” in “monolithic council house schemes”.

Opposition parties also criticised the SNP government for not putting more funds into the housing budget to increase the sums available to build new council houses.

However, Ms Sturgeon insisted: “It is absolutely vital people can access social housing when they need it most. Social housing is under significant pressure and so too are the budgets that support it.”

She added: “The Scottish Government is doing everything possible to maximise our investment in housing and deliver on our target of 30,000 new, affordable homes over the lifetime of this parliament.

“But, given the pressure on both the housing stock and budgets – and with 400,000 people on waiting lists for social housing – we can no longer afford to see badly needed homes lost to the social sector.”

The decision would, she said, be likely to ensure that approximately 15,000 homes which might otherwise have been sold remain in the public domain. It is estimated that about 455,000 council homes in Scotland have been bought by tenants since the late Lady Thatcher introduced the scheme. Across the UK, it is estimated that two million homes have been bought, with 200,000 in 1982 alone.

Proceeds of the sales were paid to local authorities – but they were not allowed to use the cash to build more homes, meaning that the total stock gradually diminished.

The discounts were cut by the Labour government when it came to power in 1997 and the rules around sales have been tightened in recent years.

The move was backed by housing associations and homeless charities last night.

Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, said: “We welcome the news that this outdated policy – which for a long time has had no place in Scotland’s housing landscape – is to be scrapped.

“Around half-a-million public sector homes have been sold off in Scotland since the policy was implemented. Meanwhile, 157,000 families and individuals are stuck on council waiting lists for a home to call their own.”

Queens Cross Housing Association chief executive Shona Stephen said: “There is huge pressure on our existing stock with over four times as many people waiting for a house as we have houses to let each year. The continued loss of stock to right- to-buy would only see this worsen.”

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson criticised the move. She said: “Right-to-buy has been the most effective single measure to enable a whole generation on modest incomes to take pride in owning their own property.

“It has enabled thousands of people to make better choices about their future and given them financial security and a flexibility their parents could only dream about.

“But it’s a choice that the SNP wants to take away from the next generation. Ending the right to buy for council tenants slams the door in the faces of families with modest incomes who want to own their own home and who have no other route to achieve that aspiration.”

Scottish Labour MSP James Kelly said: “The SNP seem to have some very odd priorities when it comes to housing. On one hand, they will stop right-to-buy, but on the other have slashed the housing budget so that the number of new social homes being built has collapsed.”

He added: “While today’s decision will impact on some, the real difference is that housing has been simply left on the sidelines. Through kick-starting the economy, they could have ensured much-needed homes were built.”

Philip Hogg, chief executive of industry body Homes for Scotland, said: “We believe the key issue is overall housing supply. Housing output has slumped to its lowest levels in 70 years, and it is estimated that 465,000 homes are needed in Scotland by 2035 to meet demand.

“However, recent build rates published by the Scottish Government point to a potential shortfall in the region of 140,000 by then,and there are currently already significantly more people than that on waiting lists.”