City region ready to rebel over Right to Buy

As a report reveals how little RtB has done for social housing in Greater Manchester, politicians ponder the possibility of its suspension.

Greater Manchester is ready to rebel over Right to Buy as a report reveals more than 5,000 council houses have been sold off across the city region for some £27m since 2012 – with not a single home built to directly replace them despite government promises of ‘one for one’ replacement.

Now, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, the region’s housing chief Paul Dennett and Graham Stringer, MP for Blackley and Broughton, have now all suggested suspending RTB to tackle an 85,000-strong social housing waiting list and growing homeless population.

“If we are to tackle the crisis, we all have to be honest about the extent to which the Right to Buy policy has contributed to the problem,” said Burnham.

“We can see that the current system is not working as intended. Over 90,000 social rented homes have been sold in the city-region since 1980, and they’re not being replaced – Right to Buy constrains the supply of social housing,” he said.

The report from the region’s housing commission partly blames government red tape for the lack of RTB replacements, noting councils are severely limited on how they can use the money they get from sales – with a significant chunk being bounced back to the treasury.

It also says since 2012, tenants have been given bigger discounts – meaning there is even less cash left over to build new homes.

Data shows 5,700 homes have been lost to the RTB policy in Greater Manchester since 2012, and at the same time no replacement homes have been funded through RTB receipts.

The sector is losing money through both the discounts awarded to social tenants to purchase their home as well as through money returned to government to compensate for lost income, the report says.

In saying some 92,000 homes have been sold off, the report acknowledges it is “surprisingly difficult” to track how many new council houses or housing association properties have also been built over that period.

However, it has pulled together figures on the situation since 2012, when the government changed the rules around RTB to make it easier for tenants to buy their own homes, including through bigger discounts.

Salford mayor Paul Dennett, who leads on housing for the region and commissioned the report, has now written to government urging it to examine Scotland’s decision to scrap Right to Buy altogether.

“The imposition of higher discounts on Right to Buy properties following the reinvigorated scheme in 2012 mean that in lower value areas, such as some parts of Greater Manchester, a discount of up to £78,000 leaves our local authorities with very little leftover in sales income,” said Dennett.

“With large sums also going back to the Treasury, the need to repay attributable debt, and the restrictions imposed on how we can use even the small sums remaining, this makes it impossible to replace the social rented homes we are losing, especially with the unprecedented cuts in central government funding which we have endured since 2010, at around 50 per cent in real terms,” he said.

Blackley and Broughton MP Graham Stringer, whose constituency covers Manchester and Salford, branded RTB a “social catastrophe” in calling on government to release the capital receipts, provide more money for housing and suspend the policy until the balance has been restored.

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