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Right to Buy scheme must be scrapped to ease UK social housing crisis, says JLL

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The next UK government should scrap the sale of council homes to tenants under the Right to Buy scheme to help tackle the huge waiting list for social housing in England, property firm JLL has said. 

Just over 14,000 properties were sold off under Right to Buy in the year to last March, contributing to a net loss of 11,700 social rented homes that year. 

More than 2mn properties have been bought by tenants since then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher introduced the totemic policy in the 1980s. Critics say the policy forces councils to sell properties without giving them enough money to replace them, contributing to an overall loss of social homes each year. 

“As a first step to easing the pressure on waiting lists, the next government needs to scrap Right to Buy, which has seen thousands of social homes being removed every year,” said Marcus Dixon, UK head of living at JLL, which advises affordable housing providers. 

The US-based property group said it would cost £205bn to build enough social homes to clear the waiting list in England, which has grown to more than 1.2mn households. 

Their finding highlights the scale of the challenge awaiting the next government in tackling the UK’s housing crisis. Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the Labour party, which is leading in the polls ahead of the July 4 general election, has promised “the biggest boost to affordable, social and council housing for a generation”. 

Labour’s shadow housing minister Matthew Pennycook told the Financial Times in December that his party would slash the discounts that council housing tenants receive when they buy their property through Right to Buy to a fraction of the current rate. 

Pennycook said the discounts, which were increased under David Cameron’s Conservative government more than a decade ago, gave buyers an incentive to flip properties on to the open market. But he said long-term tenants should still have the right to buy their homes at a “reasonable discount”.

Polly Neate, chief executive of homelessness charity Shelter, said it is “absurd that we’re selling off the little social housing stock we have” and that Right to Buy should be paused until many more social homes can be built. 

London mayor Sadiq Khan has also called for a halt. He said last year that too many “ex-council homes . . . are snapped up by private landlords, [and] often rented back to the very council that was forced to sell the home in the first place”.  

The Scottish government scrapped the policy in 2016.

Kate Henderson, CEO of the National Housing Federation, said the policy should be reviewed but that “changes to Right to Buy alone will not be enough to end this crisis and provide the homes we need . . . We need the next government to grasp the urgent need for a nationally co-ordinated and fully funded long-term housing plan”.

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