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Housing: Right-to-Buy Sales

Volume 790: debated on Tuesday 27 March 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what further measures, if any, they plan to take to increase the supply of council housing stock to replace homes for rent lost through right-to-buy sales.

My Lords, we recognise that more must be done to build a new generation of council housing. We are giving councils £1 billion additional borrowing headroom and £2 billion more to deliver more affordable and social housing in areas of high affordability pressure, and we have set a longer-term rent deal to provide investment stability. We continue to listen to councils and these conversations will feed into the forthcoming social housing Green Paper.

My Lords, since 2010, just 10,000 council homes have been built, and more than 60,000 sold off through right to buy. Given that councils can undertake land assembly, and have planning and borrowing powers, why will the Government not back a major council housebuilding programme? Does the Minister share my distaste at the now regular auctioning-off of social housing, in lots like family silver, to private landlords for profit when we have a national affordable housing crisis? Will he now act to ban this obscene plunder of the public realm?

My Lords, first, I take issue with the noble Lord on the figures. The latest figures, from September 2017, show that 14,736 new houses were built under the three-year rolling figures that we have. With anything that is not sold—where there are proceeds, of course—by local authorities, the relevant part of the money goes towards affordable housing programmes. I therefore take issue with that point. As the first Answer indicates, I agree that there is definitely an issue to address in social housing. That is why we are making the £1 billion additional money available on borrowing and why we have announced £2 billion more for affordable and social housing.

My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister is aware that the Canadian Government have defined adequate housing as a human right. Does the Minister think, as I do, that that is an extremely good idea? Might the UK Government think of defining adequate housing as a human right?

My Lords, I am very interested to hear that. I was not aware of it. I think the most important thing is that we address what is definitely a massive issue for people. Clearly, people need to have an appropriate home and we are seeking to do that. From the latest figures, I think we have built more in the past year than in any year for the past 20 years. However, there is, as noble Lords are aware—and as I have said more than once, even today—a considerable issue in addressing the shortfall in housing in our country.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the impact of selling existing council housing at very substantial discounts varies considerably from place to place? Obviously, losing affordable housing is a huge problem in London. It is also a huge problem in many villages where we have lost, in some cases, all the council housing. Has not the time come for local authorities to have discretion as to the sales that they make and the discounts that they use?

My Lords, the noble Lord—who knows a considerable amount about this area—is right that its impact varies. He will know, of course, of the rural exemptions that apply in relation to right to buy and also the total exemption in relation to right to acquire in rural areas. We are looking at that. Of course, there is also the forthcoming social housing Green Paper that I referred to, which will look at this issue in the round.

May I push the Minister a little more on the whole question of rural housing? Only 12% of the rural housing stock is social housing, compared with 19% in urban areas. How exactly are Her Majesty’s Government going to increase the level of rural social housing over the coming years?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate also is an expert in this area—he does a lot on rural housing, and I applaud him for that—and he is right. As I say, there is an issue that needs addressing in relation to rural areas and social housing. It is a more difficult issue there. I expect the social housing Green Paper to come up with thoughts on this but meanwhile, as I say, there are particular policies on right to acquire and right to buy that alleviate the position in rural areas.

My Lords, the original question referring to 2010 was slightly disingenuous. Do Ministers—certainly this Minister—agree that the housing crisis has been caused over the last 30 years, not the last 10 years, and that the only way of building enough homes is by diversifying the amount of people who can get into that space? History shows that the only time this country has ever reached 300,000 homes is when councils have been allowed to take up their proper role and deliver a major part of them.

My Lords, the noble Lord is right on all those matters. I am sure that the “Hear, hear!” was in relation to the slight chastisement of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, who I know is far too wise to think that this problem started in 2010. It is much longer term than that. Yes, it is right that local councils will have a considerable role. That is recognised by the department and the Government. It is very important that we engage with local councils. We are doing that now, as the noble Lord will be aware, in terms of meeting the shortfall that exists in social housing.

My Lords, the evidence suggests that a very high proportion of right-to-buy council housing—the Minister will no doubt have more up-to-date figures than I have, but my figures are something like 60%—has been recycled into the private rented sector, at double the rents and double the housing benefit, without meeting some of the most desperate need that social housing was designed for. Will the Minister give us the latest statistics?

My Lords, I do not have those to hand but I am very happy to write with them to the noble Baroness and copy that to the Library. She is right that there is an issue in relation to the reselling-on of houses. She will be aware that in rural areas there are restrictions on that. Again, that will be open for discussion following the social housing Green Paper.

My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interest in the register. Can the noble Lord tell the House how many social rented homes have been lost in the housing association sector by converting social rented properties to affordable rented properties? Does he agree that it is a most regrettable policy that is eroding the social rented stock at an alarming rate, with no replacement?

My Lords, where I agree with the noble Lord is that there is a considerable problem in addressing the shortfall. By ensuring that some of this is affordable rather than social, we are going to reach the target more easily of supplying additional homes, as the noble Lord is aware, but that is not to say that we do not have a challenge, even on the social housing front. That, again, is something that the Government are determined to address. As I say, we have the £2 billion committed to affordable and social housing in terms of money available, and we are alleviating the borrowing cap by £1 billion from 2019, which will also help.