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Let’s celebrate success of Right to Buy

It’s a big time for anniversaries. Of course it is the 12 months since the start of statutory regulation, and didn’t that just grab the headlines in the trade press?

But passing with much less fanfare is the 25th anniversary of the Housing Act statute that brought to life the Right to Buy scheme (see Vox Pop, page 20). This anniversary deserves a far higher profile that it has so far received.

Twenty five years is a significant passage of time and the success of the scheme can’t be questioned. It has meant millions joining the property owning democracy.

There are certain reasons for the scheme’s success. Culturally home ownership is central to the British way of life and Right to Buy has made home ownership a reality rather than a dream for millions. Studies show that 90% look upon home ownership as their tenure of choice.

The facts speak for themselves. In 2003/04, 70% of dwellings in the this country (18 million) were owner- occupied. This is an increase of 45% from the 12 million in 1981. But over the same period, the number of homes rented in the social sector declined steadily. In 1981 there were seven million dwellings in this sector. By 2003 the number had fallen by one quarter to just under five million. This shows the Right to Buy revolution has had a seismic effect on the housing market.

Lenders have played a significant part in the success of the scheme with the offer of competitive and flexible products that assist buyers.

But the good news does not stop there. Right to Buy has been a gateway into the wider property market for many. It has been a first step on the property ladder, and this has given lenders the confidence to enter areas of social housing. They have risen to the task by supplying a variety of mortgages products for shared ownership and key worker schemes.

The lending industry has done what was required of it but there have been some downsides to the Right to Buy revolution.

Housing charity Shelter recently carried out research in Scotland into the public’s perception of Right to Buy. When asked if it has made it more difficult for councils to provide homes for rent for those who need them most, an overwhelming 87% of people replied yes. And a significant majority, 82%, felt the policy should be abolished or limited.

But such research should be set against the successes of the scheme. There can be little doubt the Right to Buy has put pressure on the social housing stock but that is an issue for the government.

Best estimates indicate that the country is building only 50% of what is required in social housing. That trend must be reversed quickly.Simon biddle


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