Words: David Spereall
Discounts for council house tenants to buy their properties should be axed because of a shortage of homes in Leeds, it has been suggested.
The ‘Right to Buy’ scheme, which was introduced by the Thatcher government in the 1980s, allows those living in council homes to purchase them from the local authority at a knockdown price.
But critics of the system have argued that it depletes housing stock for people in need of a home.
Last month it emerged there are more than 23,000 people on Leeds’ council house waiting list.
Meanwhile, a report discussed by councillors on Monday suggested that 610 council homes across the city were likely to be snapped up this year, after the government cut the qualifying period for tenants from five years to three in 2015.
Labour councillor David Jenkins, who represents the Killingbeck and Seacroft ward, said he was worried about the impact that would have on the waiting list.
Speaking at a scrutiny meeting, he said:
“I know in Wales they’ve stopped Right to Buy.
“When we’ve got 23,000 people on the waiting list it seems a retrograde step to allow people to buy their homes, effectively going into the private market, rather than using the housing stock the council has available.
“Because of the Covid pandemic this is going to be a real issue for us in the future.
“It’s a long-term issue and I think we should maybe try to urge the government to think again about the Right to Buy scheme.”
Pessimistically, he added:
“I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
The meeting was told that Leeds City Council is planning to build 300 new council homes a year in a bid to replenish stock.
Neil Evans, the authority’s director of housing and resources, said he couldn’t comment on the “rights and wrongs” of Right to Buy, but added that a cross-party consensus had been reached in Leeds on improvements that could be made.
He said group leaders had asked the government for new council homes to be ringfenced from Right to Buy and for restrictions to be put on private landlords trying to take advantage of the system.
Mr Evans said:
“At the moment quite a proportion of properties that are built are subsequently let and then what happens, particularly if it’s let to people on benefits, the government then pays more to a private landlord than it would to the council.
“The spirit of Right to Buy was about people being able to buy their own homes and live in them.
“But putting aside all the political arguments, there are one or two technical changes which could be made to help it catch up on where we are today.”
The council’s ambition is to provide at least 300 new build council homes per year. In West Leeds the council will build 12 dwellings at overgrown land historically used for sport at Heights Lane, Armley and has submitted proposals for homes at the TV Harrison ground off Oldfield Lane in Wortley, which local residents are campaigning against.
The TV Harrison Ground should not be used for housing.
Housing stock throughout the UK has been adversely affected by the “Right-to-buy” scheme. What’s more it enabled former council tenants to buy to let, and then to build up portfolios of houses to rent at inflated rents, which tenants stuck on council waiting lists had to lease as there was no where else for them to live. I think it would build up council housing stock for the benefit of people unable to buy if the “Right-to-buy” scheme was abolished or suspended for a lengthy amount of time.
If tenants didn’t buy their council house they’d still be living in it so it wouldn’t be available to those on the waiting list.