Much dust was kicked up by the Conservative pledge to widen right-to-buy to housing association tenants. How dare the Tories offer six-figure discounts on homes that don’t belong to them? Or so the housing chiefs thundered, amid threats to mire the idea in a costly court battle. But as the dust settles, how much of that anger is justified? Will the idea seriously harm the landlords to most of the nation’s social housing tenants?
The first thing to note is that much of the initial anger was poorly directed. Housing chiefs were caught somewhat off-guard by a surprise pledge to compensate them for the six-figure discounts. This financial twist – not extended to local authorities – undermined much of the early rhetoric about the policy’s potential to throttle supply.
While councils struggle to replace the homes they sell off, associations could find themselves profiting from the policy. Or so says, Natalie Elphicke, a lawyer who advises the Treasury and knows the housing association world inside out.
According to Elphicke, a wider right-to-buy scheme will benefit associations because it will apply sub-market rates to their homes but will ensure they are compensated at full value. ‘They will profit from the sales of the homes. So this should drive supply, creating more social homes.’
This compensation package could neuter a legal threat from some housing chiefs who claim right-to-buy could wound their financial viability. Legal experts also poured cold water on claims the policy could be brought down by judicial review.
Any such challenge would go the same way as the failed bids to quash the bedroom tax, according to Nick Billingham, a partner at law firm Devonshires. Judges have shown themselves reluctant to shoot down policy passed by democratically-elected governments, he suggests.