Small fortune taken from Crawley council over Right To Buy

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The Right To Buy scheme, launched in 1980, helped thousands of people buy their own homes at massively discounted rates, but in turn left its own legacy of waiting lists and lost cash.

The Conservatives have now announced plans to extend the scheme to housing association tenants, meaning the potential to lose another 1.3million homes from the social housing sector.

Few people will disagree Right To Buy was a ground-breaking idea – lowering the property ladder to those who may otherwise have found it out of their reach – and no one can be criticised for taking advantage of such an offer.

But some feel the fact the government takes hundreds of thousands of pounds each year from councils such as Crawley while still imposing housing build demands needs to be addressed.

Carolyn Wadley, vice-chairman of the council’s Tenants’ Panel, is a firm supporter of Right To Buy but agreed some aspects of the scheme could have been better devised.

She said: “The one thing that was a problem is we weren’t allowed as a council to keep all the money.

“Fundamentally, the idea was a good one but, on the other hand, government are expecting us to carry on building new houses. If we were able to retain more of that money, we would be able to buy more land and build.”

Since 1980, the council has sold 10,754 council homes with a market value of more than £581million. Taking into consideration the discounts earned by the tenants, more than £330million made its way back into the coffers.

Until 2004, every penny was kept by the council but, since then, massive portions of the receipts have been taken by central government.

Cllr Stephen Joyce, Cabinet member for housing, said: “The government were taking away 75 per cent to go into a so-called subsidy, where we paid money to repair houses in Coventry and the like.”

Another hurdle placed before councils has been the regulation which states they can only use Right To Buy receipts to fund 30 per cent of the cost of building new homes.

Cllr Joyce added: “If we don’t spend it in three years, we have to give it back to the government.”

Add that to Crawley’s usual problem of not having enough land on which to build the houses demanded of it by government and it’s easy to see how Right To Buy could be something of a headache.

Cllr Richard Burrett (Con, Pound Hill North) pointed out much less was now being returned to the government since many council’s – including Crawley – objected to the huge amounts being taken.

He added: “The policy of requiring retained Right To Buy receipts to be spent on replacement social housing is a good way of mitigating the possible effects on housing waiting lists, meaning that the policy should work well both for those who exercise the Right To Buy and for those waiting for social housing in the future.”

When it came to the housing waiting list, Cllr Joyce was in little doubt Right To Buy was one of the reasons more than 2,000 people in Crawley were unable to find a home.

He said: “It is the main reason for the massive waiting list. It’s a good thing for people who can afford to buy but sales have slowed down again because people can’t afford it.”

The maximum discount people can receive is £77,900, which may go a long way in some areas – but in Crawley, where the average house price is well over £200,000, that would still leave a pretty hefty mortgage.

There was a steady rise in Crawley Right To Buy sales up to 2013/14 but, in the past year, those sales have almost halved. Some feel more needs to be done to bring house prices to a manageable level as even these generous discounts are not enough to open the market to everyone.