20 Aug 2012

Expensive social housing ‘should be sold off’: report

Expensive social housing should be sold off to fund a wave of new building across the UK, a report by the right-leaning Policy Exchange think tank has said.

Sales of expensive homes could slash waiting lists, claims the report (pic: Getty)

Putting the highest-value properties on the market when they become vacant would generate £4.5bn to build up to 170,000 social homes a year, according to Policy Exchange.

The influential think tank, set up by Conservative MP Nick Boles who is a key ally of Prime Minister David Cameron, claims the move could reduce the housing waiting list by up to 600,000 in five years.

Its report, Ending Expensive Social Tenancies, says that properties worth more than the average house price for an area account for one in five of the social housing stock.

The 816,000 homes have a total value of £159bn, with £71.9bn of that in London.

Around 3.5 per cent of the buildings become vacant each year and, after debts are paid off, would raise £4.5bn.

Spending floors

The report suggests that the money should be earmarked to build additional homes and recommends introducing spending floors to ensure standards are driven up in the quality of stock.

Alex Morton, report author, said: “Expensive social housing is costly, unpopular and unfair. That is why almost everybody rejects it.

“Social housing tenants deserve a roof over their heads but not one better than most people can afford, particularly as expensive social housing means less social housing and so longer waiting lists for most people in need.”

Housing is increasingly being pushed up the political agenda as demand for new homes continue to grow. Construction is also viewed by many politicians and experts as a way to kick-start economic growth across the UK.

A major study on housing policy, the government-commissioned Montague report, is expected to recommend in the coming weeks that obligations on developers forcing them to build affordable homes as part of any new schemes are scaled back.

‘Languishing on waiting lists’

Housing Minister Grant Shapps said: “I’ve been determined that we get Britain building and help the thousands of families who for years have been left languishing on social housing waiting lists.

“That’s why we’ve introduced radical reforms, including investing £19.5bn public and private funding into an affordable housing programme set to exceed expectations and deliver up to 170,000 homes, and giving councils the flexibility to offer fixed-term tenancies to new tenants to ensure the precious resource of social housing goes to those in greatest need.

“On top of this, councils looking to sell vacant social housing can now keep the receipts to invest in affordable housing, regeneration or paying down housing debt in their area.

“And the reinvigorated right to buy is helping existing council tenants realise their dream of home ownership with increased discounts of up to £75,000, and for the first time a commitment to replace additional council homes sold with new affordable homes for rent on a one-for-one basis nationally.”